More lanes on Interstate 25. Smoother interchanges. Light rail trains racing along the Front Range.
The idea of a relaxing rush hour void of mindless gazing at license plates while becoming numb to red-tinted taillights crawling along the highway may sound farfetched, but traffic engineers and community officials are well aware of the area’s booming population and traffic trouble spots — and they’re planning accordingly.
“I-25 in northern Colorado is really the backbone of the transportation system,” said James Flohr, a resident engineer with the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Loveland office. “I think it’s going to be a boon to the economy long-term to make sure we’ve addressed the safety, mobility and transportation networks. That’s almost a necessity for Colorado just to stay competitive across the nation.”
Flohr and other CDOT officials have been making the rounds to town boards and city councils along the corridor from Denver to Wyoming, outlining the future plans for transportation artery. The Windsor town board heard the presentation Feb. 4.
Because the project is so large — $2.1 billion over 75 years — it has been broken into three phases, the most timely being a $670 million series of improvements, slated to last through 2035. The plan addresses the needs of the moment while preparing for the loftier goals of the future, Flohr explained.
The three biggest changes in the immediate planning and design stages include:
n Adding a tolled express lane and widening each direction of I-25 from Colo. 56 to Colo. 66 and the reconstruction of two intersections — I-25/Colo. 56 and I-25/U.S. 34. Muller Engineering is taking the lead on this phase.
n Redesigning U.S. 34 interchange to accommodate the increased traffic flow.
n Redesigning I-25 from Colo. 392 near Windsor to Colo. 14. in Fort Collins with the addition of continuous acceleration/deceleration lanes in each direction and two new standard lanes, bringing the total to four lanes running north-south. Additional interchanges and bridge construction are expected along with express bus stations and reconstruction of the frontage road. This segment will be designed by Atkins consulting group.
Flohr acknowledged that budgets are tough, but he stressed the importance of having the projects in the queue — just in case fund streams free up. The individual consulting groups, he explained, are working toward the same goal and are bringing their own vision. As he put it, they will take a plan that is 5 percent designed with the comprehensive study and bring it to 30 percent. The groups will tackle details as broad as land development right-of-ways to drainage or technological components — the furthest things from motorists minds as they sit in the current in two-lanes of backed up traffic.
Also included in the comprehensive plan is light rail planning along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway from Fort Collins to Denver — something planners hope will ultimately be a powerful transit alternative and substitute to traditional vehicles. Officials also are budgeting for more comprehensive bus systems to and from Denver.
While minor construction efforts would be required to add the lanes at the Colo. 392 interchange, no sweeping overhauls would be necessary, Flohr said, adding that project engineers initially planned for the added infrastructure. U.S. 34/Crossroads to the south, on the contrary, would be among the 96 infrastructure improvements required in the long-range build-out because the removal of the dangerous clover field traffic pattern was a temporary fix to a dangerous situation.
“A number of those projects were just stop-gap programs to address safety issues,” Flohr said. “The bigger program is really still to come.”
CDOT finances the projects and build-outs through a series of funding streams, primarily from the highway user’s tax fund — the taxes everyone shoulders when they fill up the tank. Additional revenue trickles in from vehicle registration fees, among other sources. Though the plans may be viewed as lofty — or as Windsor Mayor John Vazquez joked during the meeting, “pie in the sky,” it’s a critical component of any long-range plan, Flohr said. With the area’s population visibly booming and northern Colorado becoming increasingly dominant in industry across the spectrum, planning for the future so the projects are “on the shelf” ensures they take priority when money could unexpectedly free up.
“We’ve seen many examples over the years of increased funding sooner rather than later, and we want to put ourselves in a position to spend money if and when it becomes available,” Flohr said. “There’s always opportunities.”
The role each community along the corridor plays could vary, though CDOT and designers are expected to reach out to staffs of the towns and cities along the Front Range for input to ensure each area’s interest is heard.
“I think it’s a good plan,” Vazquez said, adding that he would have liked to have seen more focused placed on the U.S. 85 corridor, which he called under-served. “I think it’s a good start.”
Flohr said he’s optimistic about the project.
“I think we have to plan for the future,” Flohr said. “We’ll be in a position to do this sooner rather than later.”