C-470 Coalition steers toward tolls for additional lanes

Committee’s unanimous vote narrows expansion focus

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Like traffic at the end of rush hour, the future of C-470 appears to be clearing up.

On Feb. 7, the C-470 Corridor Coalition Steering Committee — made up of representatives from Douglas, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties as well as the Highlands Ranch Metro District and cities of Littleton, Lone Tree and Centennial — voted 7-0 to toll any new lanes along the 13-mile stretch between Interstate 25 and Kipling Street.

The coalition has been studying different options to finance the addition of one or two lanes in each direction since 2011 and began a heavy dose of public outreach last summer. Other options included the implementation of sales or property tax increases within a to-be-determined taxing district as well as tolling all the lanes.

“The public was divided on tolling (the new lanes) and sales tax,” said Roger Sherman, chief operating officer with consulting firm CRL Associates, in reference to a recent survey done by Hill Research Consultants. “What’s interesting is when you start to go head to head and weigh each potential funding option separately.”

The public opinion poll, which was sent out near the end of 2012 to a random sampling of citizens in areas of impact in Douglas, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties, made two things clear — citizens were not in favor of property tax or tolling all lanes.

“Our citizens have been very clear that in no way will they support a toll on the existing lanes,” said Douglas County Commissioner Jack Hilbert, chair of the C-470 coalition, before adding that “property tax is a four-letter word in Douglas County.”

When it came to the possibility of raising sales tax, steering committee members were not shy about voicing their concerns. There was also a consensus that there was not enough support to pass a sales tax once a district was drawn.  

“It becomes very difficult to say ‘let’s tax this group of people and not others,’” said Lone Tree Mayor Jim Gunning. “Lone Tree is really a retail hub. Many people come to shop there. I think we see it as a competitive issue having a retail tax here that we (wouldn’t) have in other locations, just outside the boundary.”

Another issue with sales tax, Hilbert said, is that it would take an additional two to three years to get the expansion started, something that could happen in early 2014.

“There are still questions that have to be answered, issues that need to be discussed,” Hilbert said. “The next question is one or two lanes (in each direction) and that has not been finalized yet. But I think it’s good that we can begin to move forward now.”

The difference in cost is estimated to be $230 million for one lane in each direction and $350 million for two lanes. The fees for express lanes are expected to cost somewhere between 30 and 40 cents per mile.

Hilbert made it clear that once all the analysis is done, any of the steering committee members may withdraw their support if the analysis does not support their decision. One of the concerns, as voiced recently by Highlands Ranch Metro District Board Member Nancy Smith, has been who would be responsible for paying for project if the tolls collected do not cover construction costs.

Whether CDOT would help with those costs or not is unknown at this time, but CDOT Commissioner Edward Peterson suggested that he was hopeful the department would able to “provide substantial amounts of assistance” toward the project.

The coalition will meet next at 10 a.m. March 7 at the Highlands Ranch Mansion, 9900 Ranch Road, to discuss the timeline for the process and begin making plans for an environmental study.