C-470 options discussed at Ken Caryl open house

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Tolls, property tax eyed as ways to pay for upgrade

By Vicky Gits

Members of the C-470 Coalition communications team staged an open house Sept. 23 at the Ranch House in Ken Caryl to give a presentation and answer questions about the proposed widening of C-470 from I-25 west to the Kipling interchange, or about 10 miles.

About 35 people turned out for the event, which consisted of a computer simulation and about a dozen poster-size illustrations of various toll-road, hybrid-toll-road and non-toll-road configurations that are being investigated.

Don Rosier, Jefferson County commissioner and the county’s representative on the board of the C-470 Corridor Coalition, was also on hand to answer questions. 

Participants were invited to wander about the room, look at the renderings and view a half-hour PowerPoint presentation. There was no general question-and-answer session, although there were plenty of transportation experts available to answer questions on a one-to-one basis.

The open house is one of four the C-470 Coalition held last week in various communities along the route.

Everyone agrees congestion on the 10-mile stretch is a problem and something needs to be done. The estimated cost is $200 million. The question is how to pay for it, when obtaining funds from state and federal agencies is not an option.

Three funding schemes are being explored:

• Option 1: Add one express lane in each direction from I-25 to Kipling and keep two general purpose lanes. Approximate cost per auto: $3.65 one way on the express lane and free on the other lanes.

• Option 2: Add one lane in each direction and convert all lanes to toll lanes. Cost per auto: 8 cents per mile, or 90 cents one way on all lanes.

• Option 3: Add one lane in each direction and no lanes would be tolled, with funding coming from other sources: either a 0.2 percent sales tax or a property tax in a designated "service area" of about $550 per year for a $300,000 home. 

The first option, a partial toll road with buses sharing the express lane, is currently being implemented for the Boulder Turnpike/U.S. 36.

Philip Varley, who lives in Ken Caryl Ranch, said he would be happy to pay the $3.65 toll one way to get to the Denver Tech Center, where he works every day.

Under the current conditions, his travel times are severely restricted. “I’m a prisoner of congestion,” Varley said. He must leave the house at exactly 6:30 a.m. to avoid a logjam, and he generally waits to go home until the CoTrip website shows the route is all green, about 6:15 p.m. When he had children in day care, he had to change day-cares to find one that stayed open late enough. 

While the C-470 Coalition says the current delay is 18 minutes going westbound, Varley said he thinks it's more like 30 minutes now.

Varley said he would rather pay the toll and save the extra gas it takes to travel in sluggish traffic.

The coalition maintains the average delay is about 11 minutes eastbound in the morning rush hour and that delays are projected to exceed 20 to 25 minutes by 2025.

James Hinds, 26, said he likes the idea of having the option to pay to drive in an express lane. Going west on C-470 about 5 p.m. is typically bumper-to-bumper from I-25 to University in the afternoon, he said.

But Tim Cater wasn’t so sure he would be willing to pay $3.65 to go one way, although he would pay $1 per trip. He typically takes Mineral Avenue to avoid the backups.

Software engineer Joe Kay has been driving C-470 for about four years and has noticed there are now four bad traffic days per week, compared to one or two four years ago. Since Kay is a frequent user, he said he would prefer all free lanes because in the long run it would end up being cheaper.

'You pay for the privilege of going fast'

“The goal is to implement a solution, not to put another study on the shelf,” said Roger Sherman of CRL Associates, a public relations firm. The coalition aims to complete its public-opinion gathering this fall and come up with a recommendation for action in early 2013.

Option 1 could be implemented by 2017, but the others would require a new environmental study, and option 3 would require a popular vote.

While toll roads aren’t generally a popular choice, Rosier said tolling is the only way that road improvements are likely to be funded in the current economy.

CDOT’s position is that the only options are managed lanes (express lanes and tolls) because there is no will to increase the gasoline tax, which hasn’t changed in 20 years.

“Many people like the managed-lane or choice option. You pay for the privilege of going fast,” Rosier said. “Some people say they don’t use it enough to justify paying a toll.

The C-470 Coalition was formed in February 2011 to reach a consensus on a plan to pay for C-470 improvements between I-25 and I-70. Its funding members are Douglas, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties, and Lone Tree, Centennial and CDOT.