Planners steer all NoCo road funding to Interstate-25

TIMNATH — The North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization voted unanimously Thursday night to approve a plan to bring needed improvements to Interstate 25 along its booming Northern Colorado route within five years instead of 60.

At a meeting in Timnath, Weld County commissioner Sean Conway proposed steering all the organization’s funding to I-25 from 2016 through 2019 instead of dividing it among many smaller projects in area municipalities and counties.

The NFRMPO voted 13-0 to approve the plan, with only member Kathy Gilliland abstaining because she is a member of the state transportation commission, which is likely to approve part of the funding for the project later this year.

Conway said, about $13.2 million from the NFRMPO would go toward improvements to I-25 between E-470 north of Denver and Fort Collins. Conway said that money would be leveraged with other state and federal money – including federal flood-mitigation grants as well as Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships, or RAMP, funding from the Colorado Department of Transportation – to come up with around $152 million for the work.

“This puts us into position to capitalize on the $30 million RAMP funding that the state transportation commission can offer,” Conway said. “It was a good night for Northern Colorado and those who travel I-25.

The money will go toward four projects along the highway: an extra, toll-free lane for trucks from the Berthoud exit south to the top of “Berthoud Hill”; a new overpass at Crossroads Boulevard in Loveland to replace one that is nearly 50 years old; the addition of managed inside toll lanes in both directions between Colorado Highway 402 near Johnson’s Corner and to the Poudre River crossing just north of Harmony Road in Fort Collins; and improvements to what Conway called the “missing mile” between C-470 and Colorado Highway 7 along the Broomfield-Adams county line.

“The Berthoud Hill truck lane could be done next year,” Conway said, “and then the Crossroads overpass would have to be done before they add any more lanes.”

Conway, who has been working to gain state and federal support for the idea, cited U.S. Reps. Cory Gardner and Jared Polis as being “champions” in the effort, and praised U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet for writing many letters to federal agencies to draw attention to the highway’s needs.

I-25 is “the spine of Colorado,” Conway said. “It carries more truck traffic than any other segment outside Denver.” He cited a population increase of more than 400 percent along the corridor in the past 20 years, growth which is expected to continue. The state estimates a 52 percent increase in Larimer County’s population and a 111 percent spike in Weld’s by 2040, fueled by the expansion of technology companies as well as oil and gas development.

With numbers like that, Conway said, “CDOT has told us the corridor will fail, the road will come up, if we don’t do something.

After gaining support for the plan from a new group called the North I-25 Coalition and CDOT Region 4 director Johnny Olson at a meeting Wednesday night in Firestone, Conway said he believed the combination and focus of funds could get all the work done by 2019 instead of 2075, as is currently projected if CDOT had to do the work on its own.

“The challenge,” he said, “is how to cobble all that money together.”

Olson’s next job is to prioritize the projects, Conway said – and then the work can begin.

The North I-25 Coalition, initiated by Weld County and now representing 14 cities and towns and three counties, was formed in late 2013, spurred by frustration about what it saw as the state’s inattention to the 46-mile corridor and was effective in derailing a CDOT plan to convert an existing free lane between Colorado Highways 7 and 66 into a toll lane to raise revenue to fix I-25 by 2075.