PUEBLO - Weeds, trees and brush run wild where Interstate 25 runs along Mineral Palace Park in Pueblo.
Exit ramps are too short and curves on the highway through downtown are notoriously dangerous.
"Too ugly," says one resident in a collection of comments about the highway for a project to right its many wrongs.
Says another: "How does Pueblo have a good image when the freeway is not maintained? Look at the terrible way it is kept up."
I-25 through Pueblo is rife with design problems: aging bridges, narrow lanes, right-of-way too narrow for vehicles if they break down, not enough space between interchanges and high crash rates.
In short, it's a mess, officials say. But a fix is in the works.
The $800 million New Pueblo Freeway project is expected to change all of that.
The fix - which includes work such as rebuilding ancient bridges and interchanges, also will straighten some deadly curves on I-25 through Pueblo from the Pueblo Boulevard interchange through 29th Street.
From 2003 through 2005, an analysis by Colorado Department of Transportation showed that 7-mile stretch of the highway had 702wrecks, one a fatal.
I-25 through Pueblo, the analysis concluded, had a 43 percent higher overall rate of crashes than other urban interstates in Colorado and a 68 percent higher property damage crash rate.
A more recent CDOT study from 2010 to 2013 counted 782 crashes with five fatalities. The stretch of I-25 that was measured ran from Central Avenue interchange through the south U.S. 50 interchange.
The later numbers drew the same conclusion: the frequency of wrecks was higher than the rest of the four-lane interstates through urban areas, said Bob Wilson, spokesman for CDOT.
"Fixed object collisions, mostly concrete barrier and guardrail, were noted as a crash pattern along this section," he said.
The first work carries a $75 million price tag and is about to begin, said Joe DeHeart, project manager with CDOT.
The state is looking for the design/build team and expects to have the team under contract by March 2014.
Initial work will include lengthening on- and offramps at Ilex Street and 1st Street, DeHeart said. The bridges there will be widened to three lanes in both directions.
"It's been a bad design for a long time," DeHeart said.
Overall, Phase 1, which consists of improvements from the Ilex interchange north to 29th Street, would cost about $315 million, DeHeart said.
"The south end could end up being a phase two, three and four, we don't know," he said. "It's fair to say with phase one, we know what that footprint is and we have funding for it. Anything south would be a future phase."
It's been a haul, said Pueblo County Commissioner Buffy McFadyen.
Indeed, the project has been stalled in the study phase for 13 years by local politics, she said.
"I-25 through Pueblo is the oldest section of I-25 in the state and hasn't been redesigned or rebuilt since it was built in the era of Eisenhower and Truman," she said.
"After 13 years of study, we started to point the compass north and said it's time to get started with fixing the problem rather than studying the problem."
This isn't the only transportation work coming to Pueblo, she said.
The city is about to get its first roundabout, work on U.S. 50 west will ease congestion, bridges will be resurfaced.
"These projects coming to Pueblo in the upcoming year are going to put people to work," she said. "I've called it the single greatest accomplishment of local government in 2013."