During an open house at City Auditorium last week, a crowd of community members showed up to give the Colorado Department of Transportation input on plans to construct the long-awaited Interstate 25/Cimarron interchange, starting in 2015.
The 55-year-old interchange has been under consideration for replacement since 1971.
CDOT officials consequently studied scores of comment forms from attendees to gauge public opinion of the $95 million project — revealing general positivity.
“Overall, the public has been very supportive and accepting,” said CDOT Resident Engineer Dave Watt.
In a portion of the resultant document labeled “Overall Observations,” CDOT noted that the “general consensus was that the project is long overdue and needs to be completed quickly.”
The primary exception was related to detours and business access, which are of primary concern during most substantial roadway projects.
“Generally, most agreed that if closures would expedite construction it would be OK as long as those closures and detours are well signed and well communicated,” according to the document.
If not done right, many agreed that the results of such inconveniences could pose problems for both businesses and homeowners in areas bordering the construction zone.
Watt said the Organization of Westside Neighbors has been particularly vocal about concerns that traffic will be diverted via the Bijou Street exit, adding to already-heavy traffic flow along West Colorado Avenue.
“Advertising in the medians and signs along the freeway should be used to warn people beforehand,” one concerned citizen noted.
According to CDOT’s plans, closure of the northbound on-ramp will last up to 90 days, but not during the summer tourist season. That will be followed by other closures on Cimarron Street east of I-25 for no longer than 120 days, so not to obstruct winter tourist traffic.
A temporary closure of the southbound off-ramp will also require motorists to continue on to the South Nevada Avenue exit, cross under the overpass and return northbound to the Cimarron exit (a technique Watt called “the Texas turnaround”).
U.S. 24 is a heavily traveled route in summer and serves as the primary route to Manitou Springs, Pikes Peak and other attractions, including those in Teller County.
Jim Rees, executive director of the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority, said the interchange is traversed by an average of 150,000 vehicles each day, which amounts to 55 million a year.
“This is the busiest business crossroads in the county,” Rees said, adding that around 75 percent of tourists use the route.
Watt said the design/build team is expected to have awarded a contract by year’s end, followed by the initiation of construction in mid-2015 to have “traffic in its final configuration by July 2017.”
The project will include widening I-25 between Colorado and South Nevada avenues, as well as a realignment that will move I-25 around 50 feet west. Watt said the slight alteration of the grade and curvature will result in a “much more pleasant riding experience.”
“Everyone is aware that it will pose challenges, but that we’re moving toward something that will be a vast improvement.”
[/pullquote]Although the effects on area business are yet to be seen, the project has affected a few nearby proprietors through CDOT’s (ongoing) acquisition phase.
CDOT purchased several parcels last year northwest of the interchange, along South Chestnut Street near Midland Trail. Scott Ascher, CDOT’s design development manager, said the department will work in coming months to acquire an additional strip of property southwest of the interchange.
That sliver includes portions of parcels currently owned by the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, Wal-Mart and an independent landscaping company.
Throughout its years of development, the project has been staunchly supported by Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, County Commissioner Sallie Clark and the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments.
“This is a crucial interchange due to the amount of traffic it carries and its location as a gateway to the downtown business district of Colorado Springs and to the historic mountain communities to the west,” Clark said. “The project partners and stakeholders are pleased to be working hand-in-hand with CDOT in making these transportation infrastructure improvements that will transform this area.”
On the project team are business owners and community leaders including Susan Edmondson, executive director of the Downtown Partnership, who said no one has confronted her with concerns, only excitement about the potential improvement the new interchange will create.
“Right now the process is early, so most of the focus is on the design,” Edmondson said. “Minimizing impact on business is a top priority. … Everyone is aware that it will pose challenges, but that we’re moving toward something that will be a vast improvement.”
Janet Sawyer, who owns La Casita restaurant near the corner of Eighth and Cimarron streets with business partner Walter Gerber, said her concern is not the inconvenience caused by this project, but the uncertainty created by the next.
“The traffic department was very good about not blocking access to businesses when they did work on the Woodmen Road exit,” Sawyer said. “I think they will be very careful about this also. … I think we will be fine until this project is completed.”
After the I-25/Cimarron work is done, CDOT’s next priority in the area will be construction of a U.S. 24/Eighth Street interchange, which abuts the La Casita property.
Watt said there is no timeline on that project due to lack of allocated funding.
“It could be another 10, 15, 20 years,” he said. nCSBJ