Washington, D.C. – Changing the design to remove toll-managed lanes on the I-25 gap means that El Paso County’s $68 million grant request for the I-25 Gap project could be rejected, according to federal grant policies. The grant request specified the building of toll-managed lanes and didn’t mention any other options.
“If the applicant proposed to change the project after it was selected but before entering into a grant agreement, the Department would consider those changes, but likely withdraw the award,” said Marianne McInerney, Director of Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
DOT grants under the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program are competitive. There is no guarantee that Colorado is going to get a grant.
“We’re competing against several projects across the country, not just within Colorado. In Washington [D.C.] they are looking for innovative projects. If you want to widen a busy stretch of interstate they are looking for managed lanes. That’s just how it is,” said Tamara Rollison, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Strategic Communication Program Leader.
McInerney said that leveraging of federal funds is one of the merit selection criteria. While not explicitly stating that toll-managed lanes determine grant request success, the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NFO) criteria favor projects that “use all available non-federal resources for development, construction, operations, and maintenance…include[ing] projects that maximize state, local, private sector funding, projects that raise revenue directly, and projects that benefit from local self-help.”
I-25 Gap project lead John Hall, CDOT Region 2 Resident Engineer said, “There is a substantial chance that INFRA would not participate regardless of how we wrote it if the choice isn’t to do managed lanes.”
CDOT has been telling citizens all along that toll lanes are just one of several options, one of which includes a third general purpose lane and a no action option.
But doing anything other than building toll lanes would jeopardize federal funding. For the federal government to allow substantial changes to the design after grant submission “undermines the competitive process and is unfair to other applicants not afforded that opportunity,” said McInerney.
The El Paso County Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution opposing toll lanes on Dec. 21 in response to public concerns. What effect this resolution might have on the competitiveness of the grant application is unclear.
CDOT did not respond by press time to a question of whether or not CDOT policies require it to dispense with toll lanes if any of the jurisdictions involved object.
McInerney said, “If circumstances have changed in a manner that makes the application inaccurate and DOT is aware of those changes, they may factor that into selection decisions.”
Widening I-25 between Castle Rock and Monument is CDOT’s highest priority for reasons of public safety and traffic congestion. Rollison said, “As far as what the road will look like, it’s going to be expanded. The question is how will that additional lane be used.”
“If we do not get the $65 million from the INFRA grant and we want to begin construction by the end of the year, that $65 million will have to come from somewhere,” Rollison said, “That’s a decision that will be made by the Transportation Commission.”