One of the most highly anticipated, long-awaited highway projects in Colorado Springs is speeding toward its groundbreaking, but before the first construction crews show up, the public is being given a chance to weigh in.
Tuesday, the Colorado Department of Transportation will hold an open house to get input on plans to revamp the nightmarish interchange at Interstate 25 and West Cimarron Street - a project that has been on the state's radar since 1971, and has been a top priority for Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark and the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments.
Dave Watt, the CDOT project manager heading up the construction, said plans for a new interchange have "been in the works for decades."
"It has taken getting Colorado Springs, El Paso County and CDOT all on the same page," he said. "And I think we're there."
As with many public projects, money was a major roadblock. The $95 million project had a lot of competition for CDOT funds; in 2013, the transportation director of the PPACG noted there were $3.4 billion in funding requests from every region in Colorado, but only about $650 million available.
Then, local governments had to come up with their share of the money to procure the state money. Eventually, the city of Colorado Springs came up with $5 million, and El Paso County, $1 million.
Finally, in October, CDOT approved funding for the project, which will move the interchange 40 feet to the west, reconfigure the on- and offramps and widen the shoulders, reconstruct bridges, improve trail connections and make aesthetic enhancements.
City and county officials have said the project is critical to bringing U.S. 24 into the 21st century and beyond. It's a major east-west thoroughfare, the prime connection to Teller County and its casinos, and the only major route into the Rockies from Colorado Springs.
Bach also sees it as a key to improving access to downtown and two of the four proposed City for Champion projects: an Olympic museum and events center.
"It is adjacent to America the Beautiful Park, the future Creekside development project and in the vicinity of southwest downtown urban development, including the downtown elements of the proposed City for Champions project," Bach said in a statement. "It is an exciting opportunity for the community to benefit from a better functioning interchange and improved transportation connections that can be a catalyst to transforming the area into a destination getaway."
Tuesday's open house will allow the public to assess the "basic configuration" of the interchange, organizers said. People will be able to view the new configuration and share their thoughts on potential inconveniences that could arise during construction and on architectural tweaks that will surround the interchange when it's completed.
Feedback from the open house will be given to the design/build contractor teams that will submit proposals later in the year. Watt said CDOT has a short list of three potential contractors. He expects one to be chosen by the end of 2014, and work to begin on the project by mid-2015, with a targeted completion in 2017.
Watt stressed Friday that the project does not include a reconstruction of the U.S. 24/8th Street intersection. He said there is no timetable for that project, but there are plans to update that thoroughfare.
IF YOU GO
What: Public meeting to view the new I-25
Cimarron interchange plans and give feedback
When: 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday; overview and presentation start at 5:45 p.m.
Where: City Auditorium, 221 E. Kiowa St.
Note: Arrangements for special ADA accommodations can be made by calling 719-302-6781 or by emailing dot_i25 Cimarron@state.co.us.