Re­cent deaths of two state troop­ers spark call for widen­ing high­way south of Cas­tle Rock

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By John Aguilar

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

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.

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