CLEAR CREEK COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – The Colorado Department of Transportation knows it needs to do more to plan for future maintenance and highway improvements.

The agency said their biggest problem is that its budget is dropping while the state’s population is growing and more vehicles are on the road.

The traffic problem on the Interstate 70 mountain corridor isn’t going anywhere. One major fix CDOT has been working on is adding what they call a Peak Period Shoulder Lane.

When I-70 becomes congested like this, CDOT will open Peak Period Shoulder Lanes (credit: CBS)

When I-70 becomes congested like this, CDOT will open a Peak Period Shoulder Lane (credit: CBS)

On Sunday afternoons, when skiers return from the mountains and the congestion builds, an extra lane will be open for a price. Tolled lanes, CDOT said in their new plan for the state, may be one of the only options.

“Annual funding for transportation can no longer keep pace with cost operating, maintaining and improving the statewide transportation system,” said CDOT executive director Shailen Bhatt on Thursday.

CDOT launched a statewide transportation plan this week that looks all the way out to 2040, by which the population is expected to increase by 150 percent.

Yet each year CDOT is looking at a massive $800 million gap in maintaining state highways.

Bhatt explained, “If this is going to be an economic engine to drive our state forward we need to realize we’re short-funding that.”

Officials say declining gas tax revenues and less state funding are going to create problems for our highways unless something is done. The answer is increasingly a phrase people don’t like: public-private partnerships.

“Public-private partnerships, tolling of these lanes, these are the limited tools left in the toolbox in order to fund the very important transportation projects that we have,” said Bhatt.

Shailen Bhatt, CDOT Executive Director (credit: CBS)

Shailen Bhatt, CDOT Executive Director (credit: CBS)

As Ed Peterson, from the Colorado Transportation Commission, explained,”Everything has a cost to it, even doing nothing has a cost to it. And so what we’re trying to do is leverage those opportunities for private investment where they’re most appropriate.”

Officials say the public must be talked to through every step moving forward, but if Colorado’s highway system is going to improve, toll lanes are eminent.

CDOT said it spoke with 60,000 Coloradans to put together this statewide transportation plan.

As for the I-70 project currently in the works, the Peak Period Shoulder Lane is expected to be open in the coming fall, in time for next ski season.

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