Working single-mindedly as a group of strong leaders who represent different factions has, without a doubt, inherent challenges. Meeting the demand in the case of making Interstate 25 in Northern Colorado wide enough to keep traffic moving and the area thriving has required shifting the focus from micro to macro and staying focused on the goal.
The section of I-25 that’s been the target for regional development, close to 50 miles long, stretches along I-25 north between Colorado Highway 14 on the northern edge of Fort Collins and Colorado Highway 66, at Longmont’s northern edge. Adding a third lane to the interstate will cost about $1.5 billion.
Drivers for the project included an increased population along the corridor — 425 percent over the past 20 years — and a glimpse of what would happen if the project didn’t happen sooner rather than later.
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“We saw the future of I-25 after the flood, when all north and south roads 20 miles west of I-25 and 20 miles east of Greeley were closed,” said Barbara Kirkmeyer, chair of the North I-25 Coalition. “We were being told that improvements wouldn’t happen until 2075, and we already knew that some sections only had a 10-year life span.”
“The flood was the fire under us to get this done sooner,” said Sean Conway, Weld County commissioner at large and co-founder of the Coalition. “It forced all traffic on I-25 into a gridlock, and it was harvest time in Weld County — we’d lose crops if the roads weren’t fixed.”
In addition to the Colorado Department of Transportation decree that improvements were out of the question until 2075, the project lacked financial backing and was not fully understood in terms of detriment to communities along the corridor.
“Some communities didn’t want more lanes because they thought it would just create more congestion,” Conway said.
To give life to the project and move it up the priority list, community leaders came together. Included in the groups these leaders founded are the Fix North I-25 Business Alliance formed in 2014.
The Alliance is a joint committee of the Fort Collins, Greeley and Loveland chambers of commerce, Upstate Colorado Economic Development and the Northern Colorado Economic Alliance.
Another group, the North I-25 Coalition, was founded in 2013 as a collection of about 15 town, city and county governments along the North I-25 corridor in Larimer and Weld counties.
“The challenges and obstacles we faced were pretty common for a startup initiative,” said David May, convener for the Fix North I-25 Business Alliance. “To be successful, you need to be crystal clear about your purpose and objectives.
“In our case, we had to fight the temptation to broaden our focus to anything other than adding additional lanes to North I-25.”
Progress to date includes a $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to help fund a tolled HOV/express lane in both directions from Fort Collins to Loveland, construction on a climbing lane south of Berthoud and other projects. Various governmental jurisdictions have contributed funding.
“We saw this as economic development life blood for us,” Kirkmeyer said. “It’s a major corridor that has significance for the state of Colorado as well as for Northern Colorado — it’s an economic driver for the state. Typically, people tend to be parochial about something like this, but we went against that and said ‘let’s go fight this together.’”
“That’s what regional cooperation and collaboration is about,” Conway added.