Stop, pay toll ahead?
EAGLE ” One local politician calls it a “pipe dream,” the woman in charge of the state’s toll road commission hasn’t heard of it yet, and the man who came up with the idea doesn’t return phone calls.
The idea is a toll road between Denver and Eagle, possibly using a route over Berthoud or Loveland passes. Lindsay Case, a Colorado Springs developer who’s hot on the idea of toll roads, recently filed articles of incorporation with the state for a company called “Denver Eagle Toll Roads Inc.”
While short on details, the filing identifies the purpose of the corporation as constructing a toll road “along, within and adjacent to the I-70 corridor,” possibly using the two passes mentioned above.
Preposterous? Possibly. When it comes to toll roads ” a hot topic in Colorado transportation discussions these days ” it all boils down to feasibility.
Considering the cost of building mountains roads and the fact that any private corporation trying to build a toll road in the state would do so without any federal or state funds, one can only guess what the toll would be for such a route.
“Our preliminary studies define feasibility as a road that gets 20 percent of its cost through federal funding and pays off its constructions costs in 30 years,” said Peggy Catlin, director of the Colorado Tolling Enterprise.
Catlin, whose organization was formed in 2002 by the state Legislature to study toll road projects, said the only related project the Tolling Enterprise has looked at is the possibility of a third tunnel at the Eisenhower Tunnel.
“We did it as an academic exercise,” Catlin said, noting that state law currently prohibits the levying of tolls on roads already paid for by gasoline taxes.
If, however, a new law was passed allowing it, a third bore would represent new capacity, and a toll could be charged at the tunnel to pay for it.
But that’s a long way from building a road separate from I-70 that traverses mountain passes, through private property, Forest Service land and a whole lot of environmentally sensitive landscape.
“I don’t think it’s realistic at all,” said State Rep. Gary Lindstrom, who represents Eagle and Summit counties. “I think (Case) is creating a placeholder so that, if something does occur in the future, he can say he owns the rights to the idea or the plan or however he wants to define it.”
Case did not return several calls from the Vail Daily.
Over the past year, the Tolling Enterprise convened a committee to gather comments on toll roads from public officials statewide.
Representing the mountain region on the committee was Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland.
Acknowledging that any near-term improvements to I-70 are “unlikely” due to the great expense, Ireland wrote in an e-mail of the pros and cons of toll roads.
“Toll roads have the advantage of allocating costs to users and thus are ‘fair’ from that perspective,” Ireland said. “However … the funding mechanism is inefficient in the sense that revenue bonds require higher interest rates than state financing.”
There’s also a fairness issue, Ireland said.
“It would be a major shift in public policy to make some communities pay for their road system while others are state supported through tax revenues.”
Catlin said that, while there are no serious plans for toll lanes in the mountain areas, it’s an option to keep in the mix. Revenue from gas taxes, which have traditionally funded highway projects, is steadily decreasing, she said.
“With better fuels and better mileage, the spending power of the gas tax is declining,” Catlin said. “He have to look at other ways to finance our shortall, so we look at tolls.”
The big story in Colorado on toll roads is a proposal ” dubbed “Super Slab” ” to build a four-lane, 210-mile-long highway running north-south in eastern Colorado.
Even given a significant amount of public outcry against the idea, a recently enacted state law ” not to mention a U.S. Supreme Court decision ” may make it easier for tolling entities to appropriate land for their ventures.
And, as Catlin noted, the predicted doubling in the amount of freight loads in the U.S. over the next 20 years makes toll roads ever more attractive.
But would it fly in the mountains? Rep. Lindstrom said the only way it could happen is if the developer gets a right-of-way through large swaths of U.S. Forest Service land.
“In the White River National Forest plan, there is a carve-out for transit,” Lindstrom said. “But it was put in there as a potential right-of-way for rapid transit, and toll roads aren’t that.”
Whatever Case has in mind incorporating “Denver Eagle Toll Roads, Inc.,” Lindstrom suggested no one hold their breath.
“It won’t happen in my lifetime,” he said. “It’s a pipe dream.”
Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or email@example.com.
Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado
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