Construction crews expect to finish widening the northern five miles of the Interstate 25 Gap Project in early November, but the Colorado Department of Transportation does has no plans to open the new lanes for a year and half.
Colorado Springs City Council members questioned a CDOT official at meeting Monday about plans to keep the lanes closed until the full $350 million project to widen I-25 between Monument and Castle Rock is finished in late 2022.
"When people are stuck in traffic and look over at this big wide expanse of unused concrete, that’s just not going to go over well," Councilman Andy Pico said.
I-25 South Gap Project Manager Paul Neiman said opening the southbound express lane early would essentially just speed drivers to another bottleneck because they would have to merge back into two lanes. To open the northbound lane, CDOT would have to put in overhead signs about the express lane to abide by federal law and the agency does not have room for those signs in the construction area, he said.
The agency needs to wait until it is finished with the full 18-mile stretch of highway to stripe the new lanes, Neiman said.
Additionally, keeping the inside 27-foot-wide express lanes unmarked will provide a way for first responders to get to crashes and other emergencies, he said. The widened section will have 12-foot-wide shoulders on the outside of the highway, a CDOT diagram shows.
Councilman Wayne Williams said he could see the need to keep the southbound lane closed, but asked Neiman to re-evaluate the closure of the northbound lane.
"I don’t understand why we would leave it unstriped for a year and half when we could actually provide a benefit for the citizens and taxpayers of Colorado," Williams said.
Neiman also provided updates on other elements of the highway project, including bridges, tolls and protecting wildlife.
To reduce crashes caused by wildlife, CDOT is putting in four new underpasses and all of them are nearing completion, he said. Crews also have installed 14 of the 27 miles of deer fencing planned to guide wildlife to the new crossings, he said.
The agency is planning to open Spruce Mountain Road bridge, which provides access to Larkspur, at the end of the month, Neiman said.
The tolls that will be charged to use the new express lanes will be set by state's High-Performance Transportation Enterprise in the months before they open, Neiman said. The rates will be based on surveys to determine what residents are willing to pay. The lanes will be free to buses and carpoolers.
Drivers will not pay tolls in El Paso County. The tolls will be charged between Plum Creek Parkway in Castle Rock and east County Line Road, north of Monument, the CDOT presentation showed.