Residents in the rural expanse between Monument and Castle Rock have long known the Colorado Renaissance Festival as a traffic nightmare.
But this year, locals fear that the gridlock will intensify as construction heightens on what is known as the Interstate 25 “Gap,” an 18-mile stretch of highway that is being widened from two lanes to three with the addition of a toll lane in each direction.
“Oh, it’s going to be horrible,” said Lana Falkie, a Larkspur resident who lives off the road that visitors take to the medieval festival that begins this month and continues on weekends through early August.
“We won’t be able to leave. We’ll have to go out the back way through a road that’s not maintained,” Falkie said.
By the end of June, the roughly 18 miles of I-25 from Monument to Castle Rock will be the longest construction zone in the state. Crews are at work on the northern and southern portions of the stretch.
The $350 million project, paid for by local governments and the state, is slated for completion in 2022.
As lane restrictions and traffic shifts slow cars traversing the Gap, more and more drivers are using rural highways and frontage roads to skip the headache, residents said at a Colorado Department of Transportation open house Thursday night at Larkspur Elementary School.
“Every time anybody knows about a backup, anywhere from Lone Tree down to Monument, they’re getting on the frontage roads and clogging up those,” said Larkspur resident Tom Bennie.
Bennie said he’s seen traffic on I-25 line up for two to three miles to exit to Larkspur during the Renaissance Festival.
“That will just back things up more,” he said. “There will be more accidents.”
CDOT has assured that two lanes will remain open in each direction during the day and on weekends, barring emergencies. Crews will also not be on the roads on Saturday or during the day Sunday, said CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson.
State transportation officials encourage drivers to stay on I-25, but there’s not much they can do to prevent drivers from using alternative routes, Wilson said.
“We can’t stop people from using those roadways,” said Wilson.
But residents worry that drivers who aren’t familiar with the area create a safety risk when they use rural roads as shortcuts.
“People drive too fast. I think they think they’re still on I-25,” said Larkspur area resident Kris Somers, who’s seen more vehicles detouring on Spruce Mountain Road and Colorado 105 since construction began.
“It’s a future accident,” added her husband, Doug Corley. “The roads aren’t made for the added traffic and the bicyclists.”
The frontage roads, too, are expected to experience closures as the project progresses, according to CDOT. Speed limits on those roads have been reduced to 45 mph.
South of Greenland Road and north of Sky View Lane, I-25 traffic is being shifted to the outside of the roadway as crews construct the new lanes near the median.
Work on the middle stretch of the Gap kicked off on Monday when crews shut down a 1.5 miles of the interstate’s left, northbound lane near Greenland Road for 12 hours, starting just as rush-hour traffic was winding down.
More lengthy, overnight lane closures are expected in the area this month as a transitional lane is built near the highway’s center to shift northbound traffic to the western side of I-25, where it will be separated from oncoming traffic by a barrier. That traffic shift, expected to come this month, will allow crews to begin reconstructing the Greenland Road interchange.
“We just can’t wait for it to be done,” Somers said.