Drive to fix north I-25: Let’s stay on course

Northern Colorado is making great progress on the drive to widen Interstate 25. The most recent good news was the announcement of a federal grant for interstate improvements. While we have a lot to celebrate, we still have a long way to go. Fortunately, our leaders are united, and we have a focused plan.
By way of reminder, north I-25 already is congested and the problem will get quickly worse because the population of the Weld-Larimer area is on pace to double by 2040.

Making matters worse, Colorado leaders have failed to make transportation a priority. From 2009 to 2015 state expenditures grew by $3 billion but none of it went to transportation.

In response to this situation, in late 2013 local governments in Northern Colorado formed a group called the I-25 Coalition. Early in 2014 the business community formed a companion group called the Fix North I-25 Business Alliance.

Together, leaders in Larimer and Weld counties, public officials and business leaders have worked with the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Legislature and our congressional delegation to good effect.

Over the past 28 months, the following has happened:

• A shared vision, guiding principles and lobbying effort were put in place.

• As a result, after largely being ignored for years, North I-25 now is considered one of the state’s top transportation priorities.

• Also due to the efforts of Northern Colorado leaders, overall transportation funding has been moved to center stage with state leaders. In that regard, we played a key role in getting $357 million of state general fund dollars committed to transportation over the next two years, some of which will come to north I-25.

• Leaders now agree that bonding is a great mechanism to accelerate highway capacity projects around the state, including north I-25.

• Local governments in Northern Colorado, working through the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization, gave up federal money slated for local streets to build a southbound climbing lane on Berthoud Hill south of Loveland.

• Construction will start soon the Crossroads Interchange, which should be done by the end of 2017.

• Local governments and some private landowners committed $25 million to help secure the federal TIGER grant. That $15 million grant was announced July 27.

• All of the above has inspired CDOT to create the North I-25 Phase 1 project to add a managed lane in each direction between Colorado Highway 14 in Fort Collins and just south of Loveland. The $235 million project could be done as early as the end of 2020. Effectively, the most congested part of I-25 — 14 of the 26 miles — finally would get relief.

These accomplishments are significant and worth celebrating, but let’s not spike the football too soon. We’ve all seen the overly excited football player drop the ball before stepping into the end zone, right? Our end zone is three lanes each way between Colorado 14 in Fort Collins and Colorado 66 northeast of Longmont by 2025. We can’t stop in Loveland.

This is what it will take to achieve that goal:

• Stay on this. Local government and business leaders have a common goal and have resourced a lobbying effort. Do not let up.

• The Legislature needs to step up to its obligations by referring a measure to voters to renew the very successful TRANS bonds program that will expire in 2017. Legislation is needed to change or replace the temporary, unreliable and volatile Senate Bill 228 with a reliable annual source of general fund money dedicated to the state’s highway and interstate system.

• Then and only after the Legislature steps up to its obligation to maintain and expand the transportation system, we should consider new revenue options such as a transportation tax.

In conclusion, North I-25 is a big problem, but we have a plan and we are working the plan with good results. But we need to stay on task.

David May, president and chief executive of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce, is convener of the Fix North I-25 Steering Committee, an initiative of the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance.

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