Two developments related to Interstate 25 have come up in recent weeks, and they will have an impact on Colorado Springs for the next few years.
So much of an impact, we should point out, that the city should be thinking proactively of ways to deal with it.
Most folks are aware by now that initial construction will be starting by spring 2015 on the massive $120 million Interstate 25/Cimarron interchange project. The main contractor will be chosen early in the new year, followed by a public open house and then the beginning of work that should continue until October 2017.
For those who haven’t noticed, replacing the antiquated interchange will be the second-largest (in terms of cost) road undertaking in Colorado Springs history, topped only by the $144 million COSMIX project that widened I-25 through the city and was finished in late 2007.
This has been covered before, but many area residents have seemed apathetic to the traffic implications of the I-25/Cimarron rebuild, which could be huge during the summer tourism season.
Especially given the other development we will address here.
After nearly a year of delays caused by paperwork and other details, the Colorado Department of Transportation plans to commence work in January on a smaller but still substantial second project on I-25, rebuilding the interchange at Fillmore Street.
Despite a thrifty $15 million pricetag, the Fillmore interchange will require close to 18 months, pushing its completion up against the summer of 2016.
When it’s all done, local drivers and visitors alike should be pleased, if not ecstatic.
The peak-time traffic flow at I-25/Cimarron will be vastly improved, though probably still less than optimal until the nearby U.S. 24 and Eighth Street intersection also can be revamped and upgraded (at this point, there’s no timetable or funding for that).
Meanwhile, up north at I-25/Fillmore, commuters and travelers should benefit from the innovative reverse-routing of Fillmore over the freeway — westbound and eastbound lanes trading sides of the overpass bridge to allow for smoother entrances onto I-25.
[pullquote]Until it’s done, we’ll be dealing with big-time traffic problems, especially in the summer months of 2015.[/pullquote]But until it’s finished, we’ll be dealing with big-time traffic problems, especially in the summer months of 2015 when both the Fillmore and Cimarron interchanges will be under construction at the same time, just 4.3 miles apart.
CDOT officials had hoped to avoid that overlap, and they were wanting to finish the Fillmore project before Cimarron began, but the Fillmore delays spoiled that plan.
We hear the intent is to keep the Fillmore bridge over I-25 open throughout that work, even if all traffic has to be diverted from one side to the other. But we also hear Fillmore will be closed at some point east of I-25, which will increase the traffic burden on the other nearby exits. As long as the lines can be, even now, coming off northbound and southbound I-25 at Fillmore, the crush might be much worse next summer at the Garden of the Gods and Uintah exits.
The upshot is simple: All that work probably will affect many businesses as well as traffic along I-25. And if the chaos looks bad enough, rest assured many travelers might just decide not to get off in Colorado Springs and instead head onward to Denver or Pueblo.
So the city, including the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, should start brainstorming now about how to minimize the impact. Some possible strategies might include:
• Setting up visitor information centers along I-25 at each end of the city, especially at the southbound scenic pulloff between Interquest Parkway and Briargate;
• Temporary signage and message boards as well as leasing billboards, to combine with existing message displays over and along the freeway, telling drivers what to expect;
• Aggressive informational programs for area residents, offering various choices and routes to avoid the worst-affected areas whenever possible, especially at rush hours and on summer weekends; and
• Involving the media, which could provide more intensive reports and updates during busy times.
Don’t think of this as over-reacting, because it’s not. During the times when Fillmore is sharply limited, people will need alternatives.
And when the time comes for all the U.S. 24 traffic to be diverted from Cimarron to Bijou, or tractor-trailers having to make U-turns underneath I-25 at Tejon Street, people and businesses will need to know what’s coming — in advance — along with a preconceived plan of how to address it.
The ordeal won’t be terrible from start to finish, but it will be stressful during the periods — sometimes lasting months — when we have to alter our routine and our usual routes.
So let’s start dealing with it now.