COLORADO SPRINGS – It was with much excitement Governor Jared Polis and CDOT director Shoshana Lew announced the early opening to traffic for the new lanes in the 18-mile I-25 gap project.
The governor, Lew, and other state leaders announced on Monday, Nov. 22, the highway will open to full traffic in mid-December–a year ahead of scheduled completion–while sign installation, landscaping, and other touch-ups to the highway will be completed over the next year.
Speakers at Monday’s announcement say the combination of a public-private partnership as well as collaboration between state and local governments were crucial to the success of the project.
“It’s not just a matter of how much money you spend, it’s whether you’re spending it well, and you’re doing right. And whether you’re able to save money along the project. That’s what these folks have done here, and it’s a model we’re going to be able to take to the rest of the country,” Democratic Senator Michael Bennet said.
Within the 18 miles, nine bridges were replaced, 28 miles of wildlife fences were installed, and fiber optic lines were installed. On the surface, the two free travel lanes will be accompanied by a tolled express lane with added climbing lanes on each side of Monument Hill.
“We are thrilled to be delivering to Colorado families the gift of time and the gift of safety,” Governor Polis said.
Much time was taken to even get the process going. It began under then-Governor John Hickenlooper who says the designs began in 2011, with a groundbreaking in 2017.
Project director Paul Neiman says that collaborating with the contractor, Kraemer, in the design project allowed CDOT and construction leaders to look at the plans and decide together if it was the most efficient process.
“Bringing the contractor in early, they’re basically consulting on the design that we’re building and it really helps us to tweak the design into what is buildable,” Neiman said.
Neiman says Kraemer was able to use warm weather to extend its paving schedule, as well as scheduling paving in an efficient way. CDOT estimates that saved $10 million in paving costs.
He says Kraemer also spoke up early on about the retaining wall design, suggesting a method they’ve used before that saved cost and time.
Lew said the construction crew was open early on about speeding in the area so, for the first time in the state, variable speed limits were introduced.
She said that bringing issues up like that early prevented delays and stoppages in construction.
“Efficiency in the process. There was just a concerted effort to make it a focus to get all of the process steps done in a concurrent manner, quickly and collaborating with everyone working on issues at the front end–those are the kinds of things that keep big projects moving,” Lew said.
Hickenlooper, the now-democratic Senator for Colorado, says this will help the state as money from federal infrastructure signed into law last week.
Colorado has long been disadvantaged for grants, as the state is the only one in the nation where taxes are approved by voters, and that has limited income for matching federal investment.
The Gap Project brought in the largest federal grant ever used for roads in Colorado, coming in at $65 million. Finishing early and under budget looks good on the resume, Hickenlooper said.
“This is a kind of project that helps bring in new money,” Hickenlooper said. “One of the criteria [for grants] is past projects. How efficient, were you on schedule, were you under cost, are you a good investment for the federal government? And I think we can say right now, we’re going to be one of the best states out there.”