Recent deaths of two state troopers spark call for widening highway south of Castle Rock
For incoming Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas, it’s personal.
The deaths of two state troopers — struck and killed in separate incidents by passing motorists on Interstate 25 near Castle Rock in just over a year — have impelled the retired 26-year Colorado State Patrol veteran to call for widening the mostly four-lane highway south of Castle Rock.
Her concerns are drawing attention from others in the community, including a fellow commissioner and retired lawmaker who has started a social media campaign.
Thomas, who rose to rank of major with CSP, patrolled the interstate between Castle Rock and Palmer Lake for seven years — a segment of the heavily traveled highway she refers to as “a miserable stretch of asphalt.” The death of Trooper Cody Donahue on Nov. 25 near Plum Creek Parkway and the death of Trooper Jaimie Jursevics a year and nine
days earlier in the same area was what made a typically staid topic a poignant one for Thomas, who takes office Jan. 10.
“Fixing I-25 is a public safety issue,” she said. “I feel pain and sadness whenever another of my sisters or brothers dies in service to us.”
But Thomas isn’t simply pleading for the Colorado Department of Transportation to come up with half a billion dollars or so to expand to six lanes the 20mile stretch of road from Castle Rock to the Douglas County-El Paso County line, which carries up to a daily average of 68,000 vehicles. She wants to tap county sales-tax revenues that she hopes will kickstart a comprehensive financing plan to get the job done.
Thomas is proposing taking a portion of the 1 percent sales tax dedicated to the justice center and other Douglas County law enforcement facilities and allocating that money to making improvements to I-25. Her argument is that the Robert A. Christensen Justice Center in Castle Rock is fully built and that revenue stream could be better used improving safety on the highway right outside its doors.
Right now, 43 percent of the county’s 1 percent portion of the sales tax goes to the justice center fund, which Thomas estimates takes in more than $20 million annually. Douglas County officials estimate the 1 percent tax will bring in $60.3 million in 2017. Any change to the county’s tax structure would have to be approved by voters first.
“There’s an opportunity we could ask voters to re- program (that 43 percent) and redirect it to I-25,” she said.
She also recognizes that it may be more realistic to just ask for the 13 percent portion of the justice center fund that is dedicated to capital construction and leave alone the remainder that funds maintenance and operations.
Commissioner Roger Partridge said the idea of redirecting part of the county sales tax to expanding I-25 is “a worthy question.”
“It is a challenging road — it has elevation changes and it’s not a straight shot,” he said. “I’d like to see more capacity.”
But he said there would need to be discussions with the sheriff’s department and with county attorneys to see what is realistic when it comes to changing sales tax revenue streams. Sheriff Tony Spurlock declined to comment for this story, saying through a county spokeswoman that he would let the commissioners discuss the issue first before weighing in.
Partridge said Douglas County has been studying what to do about I-25 south of Castle Rock for several years, even spending $250,000 on a Planning and Environmental Linkages Study that CDOT recently launched. The agency will hold public meetings on the study in Colorado Springs and Castle Rock at the end of January.
“We’re excited because it’s getting attention locally, from the state legislature, CDOT and the federal delegation,” Partridge said.
Jursevics was killed while standing on the southbound side of the interstate in a two-lane section. She was directing a suspected drunken driver to pull over and was hit by that driver. Donahue was killed in an area where there are three northbound lanes when he was on the shoulder investigating a crash and was hit by truck.
While an additional lane probably would not have helped in the Donahue death, CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford said there is a larger issue with safety in an area that is growing quickly and has become more susceptible to collisions.
“We don’t want to negate that there is a congestion issue and that can have an effect on crashes,” Ford said.
She said her agency has many demands on its strained budget from across the state, but added: “I-25 and I-70 are key priorities of CDOT and the governor.”
I-25 in Douglas County “is a clear priority corridor,” she said.
CDOT has its hands full on I-25, including a $237 million expansion of the highway between Fort Collins and Johnstown and plans to add express lanes to I-25 between 120th Avenue and the Northwest Parkway in Denver’s northern suburbs. CDOT just finished a $67 million expansion of the interstate in Colorado Springs, Ford said.
“We are strapped,” she said.
But Ford said it’s positive that Douglas County is taking upon itself the responsibility to find funding for a future project, which she said could pull in others to put up money, either through grants or publicprivate partnerships.
“Any additional resources to draw to that area are important and allow us to leverage dollars more effectively,” Ford said.
Douglas County doesn’t have an appreciably higher rate of fatal crashes than other metro-area counties for its population. Through Dec. 19, CDOT data shows that Douglas County had 20 fatal crashes, while Denver had 48, Adams County had 55, Arapahoe County had 35 and Jefferson County had 43.
But for Ann Howe, who last month started the Facebook page Fix I-25 Now, the road has become a menace.
“It just seems that it is increasingly deadly, the aggression is getting worse,” said the former New Hampshire state lawmaker who now lives in Monument. “I just knew I had to do something.”
She would like to see some of the settlement money from the Volkswagen emissions-cheating scandal the state is set to receive used for I-25 improvements along with the redirected money from Douglas County’s sales tax. She said she won’t stop until the highway gets the attention it deserves.
“I witness these car wrecks where half the car is gone,” Howe said. “I’m a woman on a mission.”
Lora Thomas, Douglas County’s new commissioner, wants I-25 widened between Castle Rock and Monument to three lanes in each direction. Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post
A memorial sign for Colorado State Trooper Jaimie Jursevics has been placed along the frontage road on Interstate 25 near Tomah Road in Castle Rock. In just over a year, two state troopers have been struck and killed in separate incidents by passing motorists on Interstate 25 near Castle Rock.