As the Region 2 transportation director for the Colorado Department of Transportation, civil engineer Karen Rowe is responsible for overseeing the engineering and construction of state road and bridge projects in 14 Colorado counties, as well as maintenance operations for more than 6,000 center-lane miles. Between work on the $17 million Interstate 25/Fillmore interchange, the $113 million I-25/Cimarron interchange and the $90 million Pueblo I-25 interstate and bridge projects, Rowe took time to talk to the Business Journal about regional transportation.
Tell us about your job.
I oversee all the maintenance operations — all the signals, snowplows, signs, striping, as well as the engineering. I have about 425 employees I oversee. Of those, 275 are maintenance employees. The projects are important, but my time is divided over the whole perspective. We have a maintenance budget of $25 million. I work a lot on the planning of future projects and with our planning partners in the 14-county region.
How is the Fillmore interchange project progressing?
Fillmore is supposed to switch to its DDI (Diverging Diamond Interchange) near the end of March. It’s the third DDI in Colorado. It’s an innovative solution that our team found. We won’t be done with the project until this summer. There’s still more work to be done. Also, there’s an issue with the left-turn lane on Sinton Road and we’re trying to come up with a solution to that. For safety reasons, we’re looking at closing the left-hand turn lane.
What are the plans to widen I-25 between Monument and Castle Rock?
Only four miles of that is in my region. There will be a planning and environmental linkage study that will be led by CDOT Region 1 that should start this spring or summer. There’s just not enough money for all the construction needs. We don’t have any construction funds identified for that area.
What are CDOT’s plans for U.S. Highway 24 east?
We have a planning and environmental linkage study starting this week for the section between Colorado Springs and Ramah. It’s the first step to look at the needs traffic-wise and the environmental concerns. That study will take a year, two years. We need to make sure we have the study in place to be eligible for federal funding in the future.
What are CDOT’s major challenges?
How do we do more with less money? The federal gas tax has not increased since 1991 and the state gas tax hasn’t since 1993. In Colorado Springs, we’re researching a courtesy patrol during rush hour, a low-cost idea that we hope will help congestion. We’re also looking at ramp-metering, where signal lights will tell drivers when to merge on to the highway.
What are your challenges?
Balancing my job developing our employees, while delivering good customer service to the traveling public, while listening to our planning partners and making sure we’re trying to do our best for everybody. I have the internal group — make my people happy -— and the external customers, making them happy. Working with other regions to make sure we’re going in the right direction and adjusting to the different demands.
We listen, prioritize and do our best. I see myself as a team leader — listening to my people. I really rely on my team to do everything.
How is technology helping transportation?
We have adaptive traffic signals in Woodland Park. The signals talk to each other. They watch over traffic and calculate how the traffic moves. We’ve heard a positive response about this in Woodland Park. We’re looking at technology to see if it can help us be more efficient. On our website, you can see where our snowplows are. We’re wanting to expand that to improve the service.
Tell us more about RoadX.
To me, it’s very visionary. A lot of cars already have technology that detects other cars and items on the road. For example, some Subarus won’t let you run into a fixed object; it will stop before it hits the object. We’re looking at partnering with car manufacturers to see how we can improve our infrastructure to help them with this technology. If we can help people from going off the highway, it will save more lives. It will also enable traffic to move more efficiently, and eventually we might be able to narrow the lanes, making room for more traffic.
What do you do in your spare time?
I like to go hiking with my family. My husband and I have two sons, 10 and 13. We love to travel when we can. I’d love to go back to Australia, and we love Disneyland. I do hot yoga. I’m a big Harry Potter fan.