Colorado SpringsNewsTop StoryTransportation

Work starts soon on widening of I-25 ‘Gap’ south of Denver

Author: Rachel Riley, The Gazette - August 7, 2018 - Updated: August 23, 2018

Looking north toward Castle Rock, heavy traffic moves in both directions on I-25, which has two lanes in each direction. (The Gazette file photo)

Construction will begin next month to add a pair of toll lanes to the Interstate 25 “Gap” from Monument to Castle Rock, state transportation officials said Monday.

Shortly after Labor Day, crews will start on the long-awaited project’s first leg, on about 5 miles from Castle Rock to Sky View Lane at the north end of the 18-mile stretch, reports the Colorado Department of Transportation.

As construction ensues, the goal is to keep two lanes open in each direction during peak traffic hours, said CDOT spokeswoman Tamara Rollison. Most of the work will take place behind concrete barriers, though lanes occasionally might be closed, she said.

Most of the project is expected to be complete, with six lanes open, in 2021, Rollison said.

CDOT officials have said the project will reduce time drivers spend on I-25 and improve traveler safety, but public opposition to tolls has been widespread.

Some residents say the tolls amount to double taxation because local taxpayers are contributing to the project. And the work won’t do much, if anything, to relieve traffic congestion because only affluent drivers will pay the toll, they say.

But state transportation officials say the tolls, or “Express Lanes” similar to those on U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder, are the best choice to ensure that drivers have a reliable option for a quick trip as traffic volume increases.

The toll rates likely will depend on the traffic and time of day. They’ll be set by CDOT’s High-Performance Transportation Enterprise Board. Officials are wrapping up a toll and revenue study analyzing who’s using the corridor and what they’re willing to pay for a reliable trip, Rollison said.

In addition to adding toll lanes, the project will widen shoulders, add wildlife crossings and improve drainage, pavement and bridges. A truck climbing lane also will be added to the interstate’s southbound side near Monument Hill.

CDOT announced June 5 that the project had been awarded a $65 million grant from U.S. DOT’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program, a crucial piece of funding. The rest of the $350 million will be paid for by a combination of state funds and money from El Paso and Douglas counties and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.

El Paso County applied for the federal grant in November, with a letter signed by county commission President Darryl Glenn that described adding two toll lanes but did not include alternatives.

Glenn has said the county was required to use a letter template dictated by CDOT, whose policy says toll lanes must be “strongly considered” for highway expansion projects.

He and fellow commissioners since have formally declared opposition to CDOT’s plan, reiterating at public meetings that the tolls are unfair to citizens whose tax dollars are footing the bill.

The federal government is expected to provide the county with a proposed grant acceptance agreement “any day now,” said county spokesman Dave Rose.

The county then can negotiate that agreement before the county commissioners vote to finalize it, Rose said. The board will continue to express its opposition to the six-lane design with two express lanes, he said.

“Ultimately, it’s CDOT’s road, so all we can do is voice our ongoing opposition,” Rose said.

County commissioners and residents have suggested CDOT instead add two lanes in each direction — a toll lane and a free lane — expanding the Gap to eight lanes to accommodate growth. But CDOT has said that funding is unavailable, and it would delay construction because it would require more environmental clearances.

The project’s environmental assessment, which federal officials approved in late June, says the first of the project’s three legs will take more than a year. First, crews will work on the median by grading, paving and installing center barriers and walls. Then traffic will be shifted to the newly constructed area in the center, and paving work will continue on the outside sections. Traffic then will be shifted back to the outside to complete the final pavement overlay and striping for the center section.

The second leg will focus on the Gap’s southern section, from Greenland Road to Monument. The third and final leg — the most complex — will replace three bridges and build two wildlife underpasses along the Gap’s middle segment.

Crews probably will add finishing touches to the project in 2022, Rollison said. The Express Lanes probably will be open for two to six months before the state starts charging tolls because the tolling equipment will need to be tested, she said.

Kraemer North America has been selected as the construction manager and general contractor, CDOT said in its Monday news release.

The Plain, Wis.-based contractor has worked on other major projects in Colorado, including the new interchange at I-25 and U.S. 24.

“Kraemer has a proven track record for not only providing the highest quality and safety, but also for delivering projects on time and on budget while minimizing impacts on the traveling public, which are values that align with our overall project goals,” CDOT Executive Director Mike Lewis said in a statement. “Once complete, this project will bring enormous benefits to the Front Range, and we’re excited to be working with a partner who shares our vision.”

Rachel Riley, The Gazette

Rachel Riley, The Gazette