Editorial: On C-470, toll lanes best way to go

A Colorado Community Media Editorial

Posted

The group tasked with devising a plan to improve C-470 made the right call last week when it decided to pursue the construction of new lanes that would come with a toll. It's not a solution everyone will embrace, but when looking at how to arrive at a more-motorist-friendly highway, the truth is, there is no perfect path.

It's going to take money. It's going to take time. And while the work is being done, it's going to be inconvenient.

So why do anything?

Clearly, the Denver metro area is growing and much of that growth is taking place near C-470, which snakes from I-25 to I-70. The population along the 27-mile corridor is expected, by some estimates, to swell by more than 30 percent over the next 20 years.

Already, some stretches of the highway see more than 100,000 vehicles a day. During morning and afternoon rush hours, the road is plenty congested now. Throw in thousands of extra vehicles per day, and the future of the road as a preferred, or even viable, route doesn't look bright. That's not acceptable for a corridor that includes areas like northern Douglas County, which is quickly becoming a magnet for businesses to open and relocate.

So when the C-470 Corridor Coalition took up the task of brainstorming improvements in 2011, it was an important step. The coalition's decision-making committee is made up of representatives from Littleton, Centennial, Lone Tree, Highlands Ranch and from Douglas, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties. The group's focus, for now, is on the 13-mile stretch from I-25 to Kipling, identified as the swath most in need of immediate assistance.

After months of doing research, reaching out to communities and polling residents, the coalition was left with three logical choices: toll only new lanes, toll all lanes or try to raise taxes (sales or property).

To be sure, the Feb. 7 decision to move forward on the plan for a minimum of one new express toll lane in each direction was neither hasty, nor uninformed.

Tolling all lanes was the least-popular option in public polling and was rightfully dismissed. An all-toll highway might have backfired by keeping too many motorists away and costing municipalities more headache, gridlock and construction costs through the wearing down of local arterial roads.

A property-tax increase surely would have been voted down, but there was some support in citizen polls for a sales-tax hike. We agree, however, with local officials who said such a measure could be unfair to communities located in the new taxing district.

“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,” said Lone Tree Mayor Jim Gunning, whose city is home to the popular Park Meadows mall.

Imposing a toll only on new lanes makes the most sense, and as it would not require an election like the taxing options, would be the quickest to implement. It's also the most fair: It would be a motorist's decision to use the new lanes and thus pay the fee. We venture to guess many would pony up to zip along at a quicker, less-encumbered pace.

As mentioned, the plan, which carries a tentative price tag between $230 million and $350 million, isn't perfect. The coalition acknowledges there may be a need to find additional funding sources if revenue from the toll lanes doesn't fully pay for the project. It's not an insignificant risk, but it is one worth taking, given the potential reward.

The group plans to take some time to refine the conceptual design and cost estimates and there are environmental, traffic and revenue studies that must be done before anything is final. Even if everything goes as planned, it could be up to two years before construction begins. And that doesn't cover the second-phase, from Kipling to I-70, which a different set of officials will get to work on shortly.

So while we're not there yet, at least we're not stuck in rush-hour traffic, wishing for a magical way out.

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