Intrepid Drivers Find a Way
I-25 Gap congestion, crashes and delays are due to population growth, combined with an increase in vehicular usage on the road.
It’s hardly breaking news. Today’s 18-mile stretch of interstate between Monument and Castle Rock – aka “the Gap” – brings out the Ninja Warrior in anyone willing to risk its congestion, accidents and weather issues. Calm, smooth traffic flow is the exception rather than the rule. The volatile stretch of road increasingly affects how people live and work.
Pikes Peak region families, for example, with children who live and work in Denver beg to meet for brunch in Castle Rock. The kids don’t want to waste precious weekend time waiting in traffic to and from Monument or Colorado Springs. Others travel back roads, snaking north along two-lane Highway 83 to Parker or south through Palmer Lake to avoid accident zones.
The heavily congested route has become a daily stress-test for commuters. Colorado Springs resident Lynne Jones, for example, serves as Executive Director for the Commission on Family Medicine in downtown Denver. Her four-day-a-week commute can take as little as one hour and 11 minutes – or an extra 30 to 40 minutes, depending on backups and accident slowdowns. Travel unknowns have resulted in Jones finding creative arounds.
“Today I ended up coming up through Parker. There was an accident at the Greenland exit,” she explains, adding that Google Maps and Waze alerts prove invaluable. Instead of making the torturous drive, she sometimes uses Bustang. The shuttle service picks up at several Colorado Springs and Monument locations and drops off at Denver’s Civic Center, Union Station or central bus terminal. “I can’t use it all the time, but if I do, I can transfer, find a “Cars-To-Go” rental and park in a designated spot.” And in the event of evening or early morning meetings, she simply spends the night.
Like many Southern Coloradoans who depend on I-25 to get to work, meetings or family gatherings, Jones looks forward to better days ahead. “I’d love to see additional lanes if they’re done responsibly – toll lanes or not. For now, I listen to a lot of books on tape.”
Her view is shared by a number of Colorado Springs business owners whose companies manufacture or make products destined for markets throughout Colorado and beyond.
Distillery 291 is a local award-winning whiskey distillery owned by Michael Myers. The company produces 11 different whiskey varieties, including a popular “E” and “High Rye.” Myers’ two salespeople frequently navigate I-25. “My north Denver rep has it pretty easy. But our Denver-South guy has to travel ‘the eye of the needle.’ He gets stuck in traffic often. I encourage him to take alternative routes like I-470 to save time and money,” Myers says. Likewise, Eden Oaks Woodware owner Freddie Provenzano decided to open a second woodshop in Arvada. One motivator: a way to serve the Denver market more efficiently. “We had a Denver client who worried because of traffic problems that we might be “undependable,” he explains. “Punctuality is critical to our customers.
Local officials are collaborating with state and federal government to find ways to finance and design additional lanes – and not a moment too soon. In a 2017 CDOT Environment Assessment study, officials reported that 1,809 crashes took place along the Gap between 2011 and 2015. Prior to 2014, the road averaged about 300 accidents a year. But in 2014 and 2015, the two-lane northbound and southbound stretches saw 413 and 529, respectively – directly corresponding with higher traffic volumes (especially April through November). The highest number of crashes occurred in the afternoon and during tourism-heavy summer months. And as the population grows, those numbers will climb. Fortunately, CDOT has identified potential funding for about 80 percent of the $350 million project budget and has applied for a federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant to complete the funding package.
“As the two largest cities in Colorado, Colorado Springs and Denver must be connected by a workable freeway,” says Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers. The “Gap” … represents a real challenge to commerce between these two cities, and we absolutely must address this issue as soon as possible. A workable freeway is vital to commerce, growth and tourism and would significantly improve the quality of life for residents who travel north for work or play.
He acknowledges that a tolled lane may not be everyone’s first choice. “But it’s the reality of how these projects get done in today’s fiscal climate, and if we fail to support CDOT in this approach, we will struggle with the challenges of the Gap for many years to come.”