A much smoother ride between Castle Rock and Monument is in store for drivers on Interstate 25 next month as new express lanes open, bringing an end to more than three years of traffic shifts, tight lanes and construction backups.
The $419 million I-25 South Gap project added a managed toll lane in each direction to two existing lanes over the 18-mile stretch. Crews also rebuilt several bridges and interchanges, added four wildlife crossings, added extra lanes on Monument Hill and widened the highway’s shoulders.
Initially, no tolls will be charged in the express lanes during testing.
“By mid-December, in time for Christmas, the I-25 South Gap project team will open all lanes of travel in their final alignment, with an express lane fully open in both directions,” Gov. Jared Polis said during a news conference at a truck chain-up station near Larkspur. The event was live-streamed online by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The corridor long was known as I-25’s south “gap” because it served as a bottleneck between newer sections of the highway that had more lanes. The project has been one of CDOT’s lengthiest construction corridors in recent years.
Several speakers touted that all lanes “will be open an entire year earlier than originally projected,” as Polis put it. But that slightly overstates how far ahead of schedule the milestone is.
While completion was set for November 2022, the schedule always included months of equipment testing in open lanes before tolling began. More work is planned through the winter and spring, including final paving, striping and landscaping.
But the new lanes still are opening more than six months early. CDOT spokesman Matt Inzeo pointed out that aggressive scheduling and warm fall weather helped lead contractor Kraemer North America not only to catch up with the original schedule — despite an early project delay caused by unstable soil — but to finish early, even after CDOT expanded the scope of work.
The original budget was $350 million, with local governments in El Paso and Douglas counties contributing 10% of the cost. Later, when more funding was available, CDOT added components that included additional bridges and a truck climbing lane, increasing the budget to $419 million.
CDOT says the expanded project is coming in on budget.
“Eighty-five thousand motorists travel the gap daily, and now they will have improved safety and mobility,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said. “The additional lane will provide travel reliability well into the future and promote multimodal travel, moving more people with fewer accidents.”
U.S. Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet also were on hand. The project broke ground when Hickenlooper was Colorado’s governor.
“I remember being here in September 2018 when we kicked this thing off,” he said. “The South Gap Project — we were making jokes about how in London, they say ‘Mind the gap.’ Well, people between Denver and Colorado Springs were sick of minding the gap.”
Tolling likely won’t begin in the express lanes until next fall, Polis said. Similar to express lanes on U.S. 36, C-470 and I-25 north of Denver, toll rates will fluctuate at different times with an aim of keeping vehicles moving in those lanes, even if the general lanes are congested. They also will function as carpool lanes, with no tolls for motorcyclists or drivers of vehicles with at least three people inside (though a special ExpressToll transponder likely will be needed).
The rate schedule hasn’t been finalized yet.
More than 3,200 people have worked on site during the project, CDOT executive director Shoshana Lew said.
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