Coming to a freeway near you, maybe: Barack Obama Highway

Author: Marianne Goodland - April 19, 2018 - Updated: May 8, 2018

Obama resolutionThen-President Barack Obama in a 2016 photo. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Colorado House Democrats this week are trying to get permission from the General Assembly to rename the portion of Interstate 25 that goes through Denver the “Barack Obama Highway.”

They’re hoping the renaming follows in the footsteps of what lawmakers have done in the past for Republican presidents: renaming the portion of I-25 through El Paso County as the Ronald Reagan Highway and a section of I-70 through Eagle County the Gerald R. Ford Highway.

The measure — House Joint Resolution 1016 — passed the House Transportation and Energy Committee Thursday by a 12-1 vote and advances to the full House.

But one big question is whether the renaming would get enough votes in a General Assembly polarized over changes to the state’s civil rights commission, and especially in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Republicans have spent years blasting the 44th president on Medicaid expansion, the Affordable Care Act and climate change.

Democratic state Rep. Dan Pabon of Denver, the measure’s sponsor, told the committee Thursday he sought the renaming in recognition of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, which nominated Obama for president. Pabon called the convention a pivotal moment for Denver and Colorado.

On the final night of the convention, Obama gave his nomination acceptance speech at the Denver Broncos stadium alongside I-25.

It’s not unprecedented to rename portions of highways; the same committee Thursday voted to name a section of Highway 160 after Nolan Olson, a local CDOT worker who died on the job.

In 2001, the Colorado Senate was controlled by Democrats, 19-16. The House was under Republican control, 39-26. The vote to rename the El Paso County section of the highway after Reagan, the 40th president, passed 35-0 in the Democratic-controlled Senate and was adopted on a voice vote in the House.

The 2001 resolution was the brainchild of then-state Sen. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs.

In 2007, a resolution to rename the Eagle County portion of I-70 after Ford, who owned a home in the Vail Valley, also was unanimously adopted by the Senate and on a voice vote by the House. Both chambers were then controlled by Democrats. The resolution was carried by Democratic Rep. Dan Gibbs of Breckinridge and Republican Sen. Jack Taylor of Steamboat Springs.

But Thursday’s committee vote indicates it’s unlikely that the vote to rename I-25 after Obama will get the same favorable treatment. Republican Rep. Kimmi Lewis of Kim voted against the resolution in the transportation committee.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.