Estimated $15 TABOR refund in 2017 could keep CDOT from getting $271 million for I-70 viaduct plan

A Colorado taxpayer refund of around $15 could keep the Colorado Department of Transportation from getting $271 million for its Interstate 70 viaduct project.

CDOT has been working on a plan to lower the I-70 viaduct, put a cap over some of the road and add two toll lanes in each direction from Interstate 25 to Interstate 225. That project is estimated at $1.2 billion.

CDOT was anticipated $271 million from the state, as a result of a funding mechanism from a Senate bill (SB 228) passed in 2009. However, if Colorado taxpayers are due a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) refund, then CDOT’s share of state money would be reduced or eliminated altogether.

When Governor John Hickenlooper revealed his budget in November, taxpayers learned they were likely going to get a TABOR refund in 2017. State law limits the total revenue that the state may spend during a single fiscal year. Money collected beyond that limit is supposed to be returned to the taxpayers in the form of a refund.

“What we’re seeing now, with the projections of Senate Bill 228, is that we don’t know if we’ll be able to rely on as much funding from the 228 bill that we originally thought we were,” said CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford.

CDOT has three options for the I-70 viaduct project:

  1. Rebuilt the viaduct.
  2. Lower the viaduct, placing a cap over some of the highway.
  3. Lower the viaduct, placing a cap over some of the highway and adding two toll lanes in each direction from I-25 to I-225.

CDOT prefers to do the third method, but will need to find help assuming it doesn’t receive money from the state.

“(That’s) one of the reasons that we’re looking at options like public-private partnership, is because we actually don’t have the money to build the true project that we want to build,” said Ford.

CDOT does have enough money for the first two options, but neither would add additional lanes.

“We’d hate to do a project like that without demonstrable benefit to the public, in other words, relieving congestion in the future,” said Ford.

Over the next month, CDOT will try to find other sources of revenue, which could include a public-private partnership. U.S. 36 is being constructed under a public-private partnership. Under an agreement like that, a company could be hired to build the I-70 toll lanes. That company would pay to build the additional lanes and maintain them after they were completed, but then also keep the revenue from the tolls.

“That’s something that’s certainly on the table for us, so we’re looking at it,” said Ford.

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