Colorado Springs — Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) officials say that adding two additional lanes in each direction on I-25 between Castle Rock and Monument has never been seriously considered as a viable option.
When asked if there is any planning for 4 lanes in each direction I-25 Gap project lead John Hall, CDOT Region 2 Resident Engineer said, “I think someone at some point might have done a little bit of layout in the PEL on that.”
The PEL (Planning and Environmental Linkage) study is supposed to be “the first step to analyze and address safety, travel reliability and mobility issues” according to CDOT’s website. One of the purposes of the PEL is to “identify, define and prioritize projects based on the corridor’s greatest needs.”
But according to Tamara Rollison, CDOT Strategic Communication Program Leader the PEL has been “put on hold” in order to focus on the required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study required by the Federal Highway Administration.
A January 2017 press release says that CDOT is running the NEPA process “concurrently with the Planning and Environmental Linkage Study that looks at the complete corridor, from C-470 to Colorado Springs.”
It’s unclear if the parts of the PEL study pertaining to the I-25 Gap design have been completed yet. No partial or interim PEL report is available on the CDOT website for the public to examine.
Hall dismissed the idea of redesigning the project to include 4 lanes in each direction.
Referring to the narrowing of I-25 from eight lanes to six lanes at Meadows Parkway in Castle Rock and the recent expansion to six lanes at Monument Hall said, “We study projects to say what really is the need. To say that there is an 8-lane segment of this 18 miles connecting into six lane facilities, it really just extends the problem.”
Ball-parking the cost of adding two additional new lanes Hall said, “I wish I had a hundred million dollars to play around with, that would be awesome. Those are policy decisions and planning decisions.”
Hall also said that the current design is intended to be “100 percent within the federal right-of-way” and that adding two more lanes would slow the project down and require acquisition of more land for the added width. “It’s inconceivable to me that we can really fit a fourth lane. You would start having very significant impacts. The project would become a lot slower,” he said.
But if CDOT underestimates increases in travel on the corridor, the toll lanes could quickly become overloaded says Jim Komadina, who attended the Jan. 30 CDOT meeting in Colorado Springs. “You’re expecting a 50 percent increase in the next 20 years. If you get 20 percent diversion into the express lane, it doesn’t take very long in terms of calendar years before the express lane is full,” he said, “Why not just go to four and bite the bullet right now?”
Hall said, “We’ve been studying this for a year. We do have good numbers and projections that help us. They’re not final, they are going to continue to adapt and they are going to continue to get looked at. There are benefits to adding a third general purpose lane.”
“It seems manifestly obvious that if you’ve got 60 percent of the state’s commerce between these two cities, the need is now,” counters Komadina, “Let’s get in and do it right and do it once. You didn’t do anything for 60 years, let’s do something now.”
Hall did not say if CDOT has studied the idea of adding a seventh restricted truck-only climbing lane southbound from Larkspur to the weigh-and-check station on the south side of Monument Hill. Users of the highway say that slow trucks trying to pass slower trucks often obstruct faster traffic and that truckers who don’t put on chains in the winter cause numerous problems during snowstorms.
The speed at which the project is proceeding is remarkably fast for a federal highway project. Too fast to suit some people, who object to the lack information and public participation prior to CDOT making what appear to some citizens to be final decisions about the highway design before the required initial planning has been completed and released to the public.
Ann Howe, candidate for El Paso County Commissioner is skeptical that citizen input at this stage will have any effect on CDOT’s design. On the Fix I-25 NOW Facebook page Howe said, “My assessment of the CDOT ‘Listening Meetings’: It is a full court press to sell everyone on toll roads.”