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Millions for I-25 widening riding on November election

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Widening I-25 could get a boost at the Nov. 7 election. - SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
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  • Widening I-25 could get a boost at the Nov. 7 election.
El Paso County voters could pump about $17 million into widening Interstate 25 from Monument to Castle Rock by checking “yes” on two boxes on the Nov. 7 ballot.

That’s because measures from two entities, if approved, could funnel money toward work on the 17-mile stretch of four-lane highway that creates a bottleneck between six-lane segments.

El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller says the widening project is estimated to cost from $300 million to $500 million, which means local governments should chip in to leverage state and federal funding.

To do that, the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, created by a 2004 vote of the people, proposes to set aside $5 million a year for two years toward the I-25 gap. The one-percent sales tax that funds the agency is expected to generate $100 million this year, Waller says, which is $11 million more than the $89 million budget. Hence, Waller notes, “We can do this without impacting any other projects.”

PPRTA’s approval came contingent on a specific project list, meaning money can’t be used for an additional project without voter approval. Moreover, previous ballot language required the money be spent on work within El Paso County, and the I-25 gap lies mostly within Douglas County. Adding a project also would require approval by PPRTA’s agencies — the county, Manitou Springs, Colorado Springs, Green Mountain Falls and Ramah.

Another likely November ballot measure is a proposal to permanently reset the county’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) revenue cap at a higher level enabling the county to keep more money from growth due to the recovering economy. Over time, the county’s revenue from property taxes has ratcheted down as commissioners lowered the property tax mill levy to comply with TABOR, which limits governments’ budget growth, and a 104-year-old law that limits property tax revenue growth to 5.5 percent from the prior year.

For 2016, the excess revenue to be refunded because of TABOR totals about $15 million.

County spokesperson Dave Rose says the ballot measure, if referred to voters, could ask approval to spend half the money on the I-25 gap and half on the county’s $200 million backlog of road and bridge projects. But that hasn’t been decided, he says. If approved by voters, the measure would allow the county to retain the 2016 excess as well as significant sums each year going forward. For 2017, the estimate is $16.6 million, and for 2018, $15.5 million.

It’s a form of “de-Brucing,” so named for TABOR’s author, Douglas Bruce. Rose notes 19 counties in Colorado have eliminated the revenue cap altogether, and 31 others have modified TABOR in some form.

Commissioners will hold public hearings on the measure on Aug. 29 and Sept. 5. Deadline for referral to the ballot is Sept. 8.

While both measures together would only provide 3 percent of the half-billion-dollar I-25 bill, as Waller says, “You gotta start somewhere. It’s not going to get done without local money.”

Other entities, including Douglas County and Castle Rock, are being urged to help jump-start the work, he adds.

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