Direction change urged for wider I-25

FORT COLLINS – Local leaders have redoubled their efforts to expand Interstate 25, with calls for the Colorado Department of Transportation to consider adding lanes to the major thoroughfare starting in Fort Collins and working south.

Such a move would reverse the transportation department’s plans to expand the interstate from the Denver metropolitan area north to Fort Collins. Local officials see their advocacy as a way to obtain additional, badly needed lanes in both directions from Colorado Highway 66 east of Longmont all the way north to Fort Collins.

Sandra Solin of the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, the lobbying arm of the Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley chambers of commerce, said she has started recruiting business leaders for a coalition to help persuade CDOT to expand the interstate starting in Fort Collins and moving south. They also will seek additional funding for the project.

“Everyone uses that roadway for commerce,” she said. “It’s the cornerstone of the network of the region, and it needs to be addressed.”

As part of the North I-25 Coalition, officials from 13 governments in Northern Colorado – including Weld County and the cities of Fort Collins, Loveland, Windsor, Berthoud and Timnath – have joined to call for construction to begin in Fort Collins.

“I think what has really transpired over the last few months is a coming together,” said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, a member of the North I-25 Coalition. “The coalition is going to try to get CDOT to focus on this corridor not from Denver north but from the perspective of Fort Collins south.”

The most recent iteration of plans to expand the interstate in Fort Collins began with a meeting between elected officials, business leaders and transportation department officials in Weld County in August. BizWest was first to report the expansion plans.

Construction of a third lane on the interstate in Northern Colorado is estimated to cost $1 billion, although the transportation department has said it has limited funding and will not foot the entire bill.

In addition to an estimated $5 vehicle toll, the transportation department has suggested funding the expansion in partnership with a private firm, similar to the method it has used to fund an expansion of the Boulder Turnpike along U.S. Highway 36.

Local officials say they are open to that idea but also want to seek federal funding to defray the costs of the project.

They have enlisted three members of the state’s congressional delegation – Reps. Jared Polis and Cory Gardner and Sen. Michael Bennet – to help secure that funding. The funding would come from reauthorization of a transportation bill known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) bill signed by President Obama in 2012.

“We put together a broad-based, bipartisan Colorado delegation that will champion this,” Conway said. Polis and Bennet are Democrats; Gardner is a Republican.

Myron Hora, regional planning and environmental manager, said the transportation department has until the end of the year to develop a strategy to move forward with the project. CDOT is open to doing construction from north to south, although current plans are to construct lanes from south to north.

CDOT has set aside $90 million to expand the interstate: $55 million for a toll lane in both directions from 120th Avenue in Westminster to Colorado 7 in Broomfield, and $35 million to design a toll lane from Colorado 7 north to Colorado 14 in Fort Collins.

CDOT currently is adding a toll lane on the interstate between U.S. 36 and 120th Avenue. That lane will extend to Colorado 7 by the end of 2016, Hora said.

Eventually, CDOT aims to expand the two-lane interstate in Northern Colorado by another two lanes in each direction to Fort Collins. One of the new lanes would remain a toll lane while the other lane would be a general-purpose lane, Hora said.

Steve Lynn can be reached at 970-232-3147 or slynn@bizwestmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at
@SteveLynnBW.

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