COLORADO SPRINGS – Can Southern Colorado roads keep up with our rapid population growth? It’s a simple question with a complicated answer.
As part of our month-long “State of Growth” series we’re looking at challenges facing critical infrastructure as more and more people move to our region.
It’s no secret we’ve got traffic troubles in the Pikes Peak region. Sitting among thousands of cars on I-25, Powers Boulevard, Academy Boulevard, or Woodmen Road can drive a sane person crazy.
With more people moving in, nearly 14,000 into El Paso County in the past year , transportation leaders say they’re planning and ready. Now it’s all a matter of money as the Pikes Peak region is projected to see an additional 50% in growth by 2040.
Rush-hour traffic is a near certainty each morning and night along I-25 through the heart of the city, and it’s getting worse. Over the past decade-plus, CDOT and the City of Colorado Springs have rebuilt key interchanges (I-25/Cimarron St.; Fillmore St./I-25) to improve traffic flow and handle additional volume from both locals and tourists, but will it be enough?
“More and more traffic is using those areas as we become a greater place to live, as well as a great place to visit during tourist season,” says CDOT spokesperson Michelle Puelen.
At a cost of $150 million, the 12-mile Colorado Springs Metropolitan Interstate Expansion, or COSMIX Project, was handling 100,000 drivers per day when it was finished in 2007. Barely a decade later, that number is now as high as 128,000.
“Over the next couple of decades, we’re looking at about 1.5% growth annually in increase in population,” says Peter Wysocki, Colorado Springs Director of Planning and Development.
Puelen adds, “The COSMIX project was definitely built in anticipation of future growth. Additional lanes, if needed.”
Already well underway, the 18-mile I-25 Gap project from Monument to Castle Rock is also being built with wide shoulders in anticipation of expansion in the years to come. But it’s not just the interstate. The Colorado Springs’ eastern beltway, Powers Boulevard, gets more crowded every year as that part of the city is by far the fastest-growing.
New interchanges at Woodmen Rd., Brairgate Parkway and Union Blvd., and Old Ranch Rd. have already been built, but notably missing is the intersection of Powers Blvd. and Research Blvd., a known traffic nightmare spot.
“We’ve been working with CDOT very closely on the interchange design and what that should look like so that we can accommodate our east-west needs through that interchange,” says Todd Frisbie of the Colorado Springs Traffic Division.
“Right now, we have a project that’s being designed that would convert Powers and Research into a diverging-diamond interchange,” explains Puelen. The design would be similar to the one at I-25 and Filmore St.
As for the city itself, the focus is going high-tech and multi-modal. A network of bike lanes, although controversial as some say they create more traffic than they prevent, are meant to handle an influx of urban millennials, more and more who are opting not to even own a car.
“They want to be able to have opportunities for multi-modal transportation — bicycles or transit — so they don’t have to be car-dependent,” explains Wysocki.
“If we can connect our vehicles and they can operate and talk to each other on the network, you can theoretically provide more capacity on your roadways so that you can avoid having to expand your roadways,” says Frisbie.
Big plans. But how to pay for them? In Colorado Springs, voters have chosen repeatedly to dole out from their own pockets to help fund construction and repairs.
“That’s going to be a key piece moving forward in addressing our infrastructure needs is the continued generosity of our residents and providing their tax dollars to fund infrastructure improvements in this city,” says Frisbie.
Voters are not know to be generous with approving funds for CDOT. Two funding measures on last year’s statewide ballot were soundly rejected, putting the agency in a pickle for how to pay for the myriad of necessary projects.
“Realistically, we have to look at growth and how the budget has to flux with growth, and a lot of times we cant meet those congestion needs without additional funding,” says Puelen.
Both CDOT and the City of Colorado Springs plan to roll out comprehensive traffic surveys and studies soon.
CDOT says this year their budget is $2.1 billion, but the majority of that goes to maintenance of existing roads and bridges, not construction of new ones.