October 2, 2014
by Sherrie Peif
It took four hours before Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway learned the fate of the proposal to improve Interstate 25 he pitched on Thursday to the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization.
But it was well worth the wait, as eventually the group agreed to pledge $13.2 million in funds to make major traffic improvements to Interstate 25 from Colo. 7 on the south to the Harmony exit on the north.
The proposal passed unanimously, and now divers can expect a lot of construction along I-25, as one section or another from Erie to Fort Collins will be under construction for the next four to five years, beginning in 2016.
The 15-member NFRMPO was started about 20 years ago to collaboratively address transportation and air quality issues from Berthoud to Fort Collins. It is made of one representative each from Berthoud, Eaton, Evans, Fort Collins, Garden City, Greeley, Johnstown, Larimer County, LaSalle, Loveland, Milliken, Severance, Timnath, Weld County and Windsor.
Those municipalities as well as state and federal governments fund it.
The plan will allow upgrades to be completed in a fraction of the time CDOT has previously said it could complete it in.
“We have the opportunity to put in place a plan in the next four to five years that won’t get addressed by CDOT until 2075,” Conway said Thursday afternoon.
Conway said he has been meeting with CDOT, the governor and legislators as a member of the I-25 coalition for a year to discuss “what can be done, not what can’t be done.”
“Now it’s time to stop talking and start doing,” Conway said.
The I-25 coalition was started a year ago by the Weld Commissioners to find solutions for the stretch of I-25 from Thornton to Fort Collins and is also made up of representatives from the communities in between.
The plan presented Thursday evening by Johnny Olson, the region 4 director for the Colorado Department of Transportation, would put in motion four projects totaling more than $150 million to be completed by 2019. Those include, in order of priority:
- A truck lane on Berthoud hill from the dirt bike track up the hill 1.4 miles. It is estimated that would reduce congestion 25-40 percent.
- Reconstruct Crossroads Boulevard bridge near the Budweiser Events Center. The bridge was one of the original bridges built on I-25 and is more than 50 years old.
- Construct two new lanes of traffic, one northbound, one southbound from Colo. 402 on the south to Harmony Road on the north. The roads would be toll roads.
- Complete a section of northbound highway known as the missing mile near the Mead exit.
Conway said the projects would be completed with a pool of money that includes the $13 million pledged by the NFRMPO, CDOT funding and federal funding.
More importantly, he said, is the olive branch the NFRMPO is extending with its willingness to fund some of the I-25 improvements. That gives the Colorado delegation in Washington leverage when asking for more transportation money for the area.
“This won’t fix I-25, but it will make major improvements,” he said. “This is a shovel ready project. The environmental impact statement has been completed but, the longer we take to do the improvements, we’ll have to open that up again and it will take years of delay.”
Conway added it would also give CDOT time to look at other funding opportunities along the corridor and put them in a place to start planning for the long term.
“Our highway system is going to fail in 10 years,” he said. “It’s estimated at $1.2 billion over the next 20 years. But if you’re going to eat an elephant you need to do it one bite at a time. It will cost less for us to do something now, rather than in 10 years.”
Conway added, “And if we can show our Congressional delegates we’re willing to put our money where our mouth is, they’re willing to go to their colleagues and say, ‘This is a vital corridor.’ It sends a huge signal that were serious about getting I-25 fixed and we’re not asking you to bail us out, but work with us in a collaboration.”