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Environmental Assessment for I-25 “Gap” project to be released for public comment Friday

Author: Liz Forster, The Gazette - April 27, 2018 - Updated: April 27, 2018

Interstate 25 just south of Rockrimmon Boulevard in Colorado Springs in 2017. (The Gazette file photo)

COLORADO SPRINGS — The Colorado Department of Transportation’s environmental assessment on the Interstate 25 “Gap” widening project will include a toll lane when it is released Friday for public comment.

“This is a major milestone for CDOT and an even more important step forward toward saving people’s lives,” said CDOT Executive Director Michael Lewis of the $350 million project to widen the 17-mile Interstate 25 “Gap” from Monument to Castle Rock from two to three lanes in each direction.

The environmental assessment includes repairing four bridges, adding four wildlife crossings, renovating a truck chain-up station on the southbound side and less sharp curves.

The public has until May 29 to submit comments; CDOT will review and respond to each. CDOT will host two public hearings on the assessment, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on May 14 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds and from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on May 16 at Liberty High School.

The release of the environmental assessment follows months of public outcry over the planned express lane. Some call the lane a “Lexus lane,” a reference to a luxury car that infers it would be used only by the wealthy among the 78,000 vehicles driving the highway daily.

Lewis emphasized Thursday that using the express lane is “always a choice.”

“It’s up to the driver if they want to or need to pay the toll,” he said. Those drivers would take some of the traffic out of the free lanes.

Some residents and local officials have argued that if CDOT is committed to a toll lane, then it needs to widen the highway to four lanes in each direction so that there are three free lanes. Lewis said that CDOT’s budget and construction timeline cannot accommodate a fourth lane. CDOT needed to decide whether to tip the priority toward safety or traffic flow, and ultimately decided on safety, he said.

“We don’t see the need right now to tip the balance we have established between safety and traffic flow,” he said. “As demand goes up, we can then reassess that balance and consider the fourth lane.”

Lewis also mentioned that other highways in Colorado have a higher traffic flow with the same number of lanes as I-25, including Interstate 70 through Denver, which has three lanes and three times the traffic flow as the Gap.

Regardless of the details of the design plan, some people expressed frustration that CDOT was not listening to their concerns. Their comments, Lewis said, did not change the preferred alternative for the project but influenced toll pricing, hours and other operational details.

CDOT expects to find out about a $65 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant it is seeking for the project from the U.S. Department of Transportation in June. If the federal government awards the grant and there is a finding of no significant impact with the environmental assessment, CDOT will “pop the cork and get moving on construction” by this summer, Lewis said. If construction starts this summer, the widening is expected to be completed by spring 2021.

Liz Forster, The Gazette

Liz Forster, The Gazette