No exit? I-25 revisions threat to Johnson’s Corner

JOHNSTOWN – In August, Chauncey Taylor learned out the lifeblood of his 53-year-old business might be closed.

Soon, Taylor and his wife will finish a $6.6 million restoration of a business that hasn’t closed since its opening in 1952.

In September, Chauncey and Christy Taylor decided to draw attention to their fight to save the pair of exit 254 ramps along Interstate 25 -better known to Northern Colorado motorists as the Johnson’s Corner exit.

Exit 254, along with all other interchanges included in the North I-25 Environmental Impact Study, are being reassessed to see how they fit with the transportation needs of fast-growing Northern Colorado. Taylor feels his exit could be potentially closed because it doesn’t fit the classic mold of an interstate exit.

“I was given a heads up by Karla Harding (director of Region 4 of Colorado Department of Transportation) that there was a possibility that exit 254 would be shut down with the improvements on I-25,” Taylor said.

Exit 254 is a pair of off-ramps on either side of I-25; there are no on-ramps to return the traffic to the interstate. The exit does not feed a state highway or an east-west arterial – it feeds a group of businesses aimed at meeting the needs of truck drivers.

Johnson’s Corner opened well before construction on the interstate began in the early 1960s. Since then, more than a dozen businesses have opened in the vicinity, including The Exit 254 Motel, RV America, Scott Murdoch Trailer Sales and Colorado Boat Center.

According to Taylor, when he agreed to annex into Johnstown, the town agreed to make his exit-only interchange into a full interchange. Taylor is unsure if the town would help protect the exit if the environmental impact statement results close the exit.

“The (town officials) are quite surprised that there is such dialogue going on,” he said. “They are not aware of any interchange discussions at this time – as far as they understood they put in an application last year to the state to have exit 254 become a full interchange.”

Results of the environmental impact study are expected to be released in 2007 and the Colorado Department of Transportation will begin investigating all the interchanges in the area at the beginning of 2006.

“Part of the EIS is that all interchanges that effect the system as a whole will undergo the same analysis,´ said Dave Martinez, project manager for the North I-25 EIS. “The interchanges will be studied under the limits of the EIS and his (the Johnson’s Corner) interchange will receive the same level of analysis as the others.”

If the exit is closed, Taylor recognizes it is the end of Johnson’s Corner as it has come to be known. The truck stop services between 800 and 1000 trucks per day and has annual revenues above $9 million.

“There is no way we could provide this level of infrastructure, property tax, employment,” he said. “We might become a seriously downsized diner.”

Gregory Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, said he couldn’t fathom trucking without Johnson’s Corner.

“This is one of the largest truck stops in the state and provides valuable parking for trucks because there are not enough rest spaces along the north part of I-25,” Fulton said. “This lack of parking is why you see so many trucks parked on the ramp to get their required rest time.”

Taylor contacted Fulton soon after finding out the possible future of the exit in August. He wanted to find out what the Colorado Motor Carriers thought they could do to help him.

“I was surprised and shocked to find out they were considering shutting down the exit – I think it is a really bad idea,” Fulton said. “The fact they would consider it leads to a safety issue in terms of pushing drivers to drive further to rest, which increases fatigue on the road.”

Taylor is especially concerned about the future of his business because this $6.6 million renovation of Johnson’s Corner will be complete in October. Taylor has moved the truck and automobile fueling stations to the east and the south, restricted entrance into the truck stop and increased the aesthetics of the restaurant and other areas of the property.

His motivation was to ensure the quality of the facility – and its renowned cinnamon rolls – that his mother and stepfather left to him.

“What we hear a lot is that as the world changes, Johnson’s Corner is sort of a permanence, and that has created meaning for us as we have designed this new project,” Taylor said. “You want to be consistent with the thoughts of how people remember you but at the same time you want to serve them at the level they expect … Johnson’s Corner holds a place a little higher in people’s minds than most of us imagine.”