Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton spoke with Complete Colorado about the I-25 Gap project and issues he has with how the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) operates.
Speaking about the Gap reconstruction on I-25 between Castle Rock and Monument, and the highly-unpopular plan to create a toll lane, Stapleton said, “I will say that a lot of the frustration certainly from the commissioner level down here has been the fact that they believed that the toll lane was a preordained process that was started by the (Colorado Highway Commission) Commissioners.”
When El Paso County Commission President Darryl Glenn signed off on an application to the federal Department of Transportation for a $68 million grant for the expansion without consulting with the rest of the board, a controversy quickly erupted. The grant specifically said that the money would be used to construct a toll lane.
In an exclusive report by Complete Colorado in February, Marianne McInerney, Director of Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of Transportation said, “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.”
During a long series of listening sessions held by CDOT, citizens claimed that neither CDOT nor the Colorado Highway Commission ever had any intention of building anything but a toll lane and that the public hearings were simply to make citizens think their input would be given weight.
Stapleton said, “I do think the governor obviously appoints the highway commissioners. I will look to appoint commissioners with perhaps a different perspective as to how those lanes can and should be managed.”
Saying it was too late to change the conditions of the Gap grant Stapleton said, “In the future, there’s no question that that department, with a change of leadership and a change of philosophy from a political appointee to someone that has core competency as an engineer in building roads and bridges, will be reflected should I become the next Governor.”
Of CDOT and its High-Performance Transportation Enterprise, Stapleton said, “I think that the department suffers from a lack of transparency and accountability.”
During Stapleton’s first term as Treasurer a telephone conversation with an outside expert on debt consolidation resulted in Stapleton suggesting, and the Legislature ultimately enacting, legislation that requires all state debt to flow through the Treasurer’s office.
“The exceptions to that are the Department of Higher Education and CDOT,” Stapleton said.
When CDOT made a decision two years ago to spend $150 million on a new headquarters, Stapleton said, “I could do nothing about it. I could do nothing about the bonds that they issued.”
“But the Department should be accountable and transparent not only to other statewide elected officials but ultimately to the State of Colorado, and it is not right now,” he continued.
Asked if he thought as Governor he could use executive authority to prohibit tolling on the Gap, Stapleton said, “I’d be willing to look into it. When John Suthers endorsed me a number of months ago I said that the absolute last option should be a toll lane.”
“We need to find cost savings within the department. We need to assure people that the department has done all it can to be a collaborative partner in funding for our roads and infrastructure,” he said. “If that’s not the case, then we need to look at that. And that will only happen with a change of leadership in the Governor’s office.”