COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The incoming executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation confirmed Monday that the widening of Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock will start a year from now.
Michael Lewis, the new head of CDOT, updated the project while in Colorado Springs.
When the effort to widen the 18-mile stretch began last fall, officials estimated the project could take 10 tears to complete, at a cost of up to $500 million.
However, officials said they have made recent progress in acquiring funding from the state, El Paso County, Douglas County and other partners.
"We think the project will cost in the neighborhood of $350 million," Lewis said. "We have $250 million of it in hand. That's enough to get started. We'll learn next spring if we'll get a federal grant for $65 million. If we don't, we'll keep looking for other sources."
Lewis also confirmed the project will add a third lane -- to be a toll lane or express lane -- in each direction.
"Revenue from those lanes could pay for the rest of the project, or continued maintenance of that section of interstate, or both," he said. "That's important when you have limited funding. But people should know it'll be there when they need it. If they don't, they'll still have the existing free lanes."
Lewis said the cost of a toll likely will be between $1 and $3, depending on the level of traffic congestion and similar to what drivers currently pay on toll roads in the Denver area.
The project will also improve the quality of existing lanes, use the center median to provide more space and widen shoulders to make moving crashes off the interstate easier.
"From 2011 through 2015, that area had 1,800 crashes and 620 personal-injury accidents," Lewis said. "The project will reduce those numbers. It will increase safety and improve reliability. Right now, drivers don't know what will happen on that route, or how long it will delay them. We can't have that on a major thoroughfare like this."
Lewis said the toll lane plan is the quickest and easiest way to improve the Gap.
"It's not the ultimate solution," he said. "The ultimate solution is adding lanes, but there's no money to do that right now. This plan should work for 15 to 20 years. By the end of that, hopefully, we'll have the money for additional lanes. The way we're growing, we'll need them."
El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller, a key figure in the push to widen the Gap, said he likes everything about the plan except the toll lanes.
"I can tell you that after our voters just supported two ballot initiatives to raise $25 million to support this state and federal project, my constituents aren't excited about (toll lanes)," he said. "Certainly they're not excited about any kind of tolling provisions to make this work. I haven't seen the need for it, myself."
The 18-mile stretch of interstate in northern El Paso County and much of Douglas County is known for heavy traffic congestion and numerous crashes.
Public hearings on the project are scheduled for this week in Colorado Springs and Castle Rock.
Doug Higgins, who lives in the Monument area, has mixed feelings about the project.
"I'm surprised it's happening so quickly," he said. "But it's good. We need it. On the other hand, it'll bring more people in and it's getting crowded enough already. I like that they're using the center median to expand because it lowers the cost, but I don't like the toll lanes."