August 7, 2014
by Steve Lynn

LOVELAND – Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, at a meeting Thursday encouraged business leaders to continue lobbying for expansion of Interstate 25 while noting the challenges that the coalition faces.

Business leaders and government officials at the Loveland Chamber of Commerce on Thursday morning questioned Bennet about how they could find federal funding to add lanes to the interstate between its intersection with Colorado 66 near Longmont and Colorado 14 in Fort Collins.

Members of area chambers of commerce, economic development corporations and local and state governments attended as well as leaders from a variety of organizations, including Banner Health, UC Health and McWhinney. Bennet blamed divisive politics in Washington, D.C., for a lack of funding for new transportation projects, but told business leaders to continue to build their coalition and interact with lawmakers.

“I think this is time well-spent, but it’s going to take time,” Bennet said.

Officials from 13 Northern Colorado governments – including Weld County and the cities of Fort Collins, Loveland, Windsor, Berthoud and Timnath – have formed the North I-25 Coalition. Business leaders have formed a separate organization, the Fix North I-25 Business Alliance, to secure funding to widen the interstate to three lanes in both directions of the interstate by 2025.

Johnny Olson, Region 4 transportation director for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said an interstate expansion would cost $1.5 billion.

Bennet’s visit comes after Bennet introduced the Partnership to build America Act with Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and a bipartisan group of senators earlier this year. The measure would finance transportation, energy, communications, water and education infrastructure projects by establishing a $50 billion fund that can potentially support as much as $750 billion in loan guarantees and financing authority for state and local governments.

Low interest rates would help finance transportation improvements nationwide that will cost more in the future when interest rates rise, he said.

“The $1 you don’t invest today becomes $2 tomorrow,” he said. “That’s poorly understood in Washington.”

Congress only has reauthorized transportation bills that won’t fund new projects such as expanding the interstate in Northern Colorado. Bennet’s and Blunt’s measure is meant to address funding shortfalls for new transportation projects.

Bennet said the Northern Colorado interstate expansion would qualify for funding under his bill, which would provide funding for partnerships between state and local governments and companies to build highways. The same kind of partnership is being used to expand the Boulder Turnpike along U.S. 36 and is being explored for the expansion of the interstate in Northern Colorado.

Local government officials also have sought funding for interstate expansions through its designation as a federal freight corridor, a suggestion they reiterated to Bennet at the meeting.

“We are going to have to sit down and think about categories of infrastructure and priorities for those categories, and freight might be a good one,” he said.