Grant Clears Road for Colorado Highway Improvement Project

A major Colorado interstate corridor improvement project has begun, partially funded through a competitive grant effort led by WSP USA.

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The Interstate 25 (I-25) South Gap Project will receive a $65 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program to widen an 18-mile segment of the roadway and add one tolled express lane in each direction.

“This project is an innovative and cost-effective investment in one of Colorado’s most important interstate corridors and will improve freight mobility, economic viability, community liability and travel reliability by implementing one new express lane in each direction between Monument and Castle Rock, Colorado,” said Billy Hwang, principal consultant for WSP.

A team from WSP Advisory Services led the development of the INFRA grant application package and served as the primary grant writers. The team also included WSP consultants Elizabeth Neely and Scott Pitera. WSP submitted the grant request on behalf of El Paso County, and is working on the project with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).

INFRA is a competitive grant program that considers merit based criteria including impact on national and regional economic vitality, the leveraging of federal funding, performance and accountability, and innovation areas related to streamlined environmental review and permitting, experimental project delivery, safety, and technology.

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Interstate 25 is an important freight corridor, but the long grades and often hazardous weather conditions create difficult operating conditions for slow-moving vehicles.

Filling the 'Gap'

As the only north-south interstate route through Colorado, I-25 connects the state’s two largest and fasting growing population centers in Denver and Colorado Springs, along with employment centers, military bases, and recreational and cultural amenities.

“The 18-mile section between Monument and Castle Road is referred to as the 'Gap,’ due to its rural nature, extreme congestion, high speeds and steep grades that contribute to high numbers of highway crashes and can lead to long periods of highway closures,” Hwang said.

Narrow shoulders along sections of the highway create unsafe conditions for disabled vehicles, emergency responders and law enforcement. The project will include construction of a tolled express lane and safety improvements within this section to address specific safety hotspots and provide increased travel reliability for corridor users.

Open space and conservation areas along both sides of I-25 through the Gap provide important wildlife habitat, but also create additional hazards for motorists and the deer, elk, bear and other animals often struck by unsuspecting drivers.

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Narrow shoulders along sections of the highway create unsafe conditions for disabled vehicles, emergency responders and law enforcement.

Although the grant process is completed, WSP will continue to provide services to CDOT and El Paso County for the project. The firm will be responsible for the project roadway and interchange lighting design, as well as the electrical engineering support for the managed lane and intelligent transportation system (ITS) components of the project.

Work on the $350 million project began in October 2017, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental assessment was completed in June.

In early September, USDOT announced that the I-25 South Gap Project was one of the grant winners. An official groundbreaking ceremony was held on Aug. 30, attended by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. Completion of the project is expected in late 2021, with toll testing continuing through early 2022.

Hundreds of citizens provided input into the corridor planning process, and more than 90 percent of those surveyed said that congestion and safety issues were significant challenges for travel between the Colorado Springs and Denver metro areas.

“WSP helped manage the grant-writing effort and supported the client through a short application schedule deadline, and a complex political context,” Hwang said. “The delivery of this application required collaboration between WSP, CDOT, project sponsors, and other consultant project teams responsible for environmental analysis and design.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation received 234 applications for INFRA grants, and awarded 26 – four of which were managed by WSP. In addition to the I-25 South Gap Project, WSP helped secure INFRA Grants for:

  • The Packer Avenue Marine Terminal Capacity and Warehouse Relocation Project, a $110.5 million project for the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, $25.5 million;
  • The Heartland Expressway, a $34 million road improvement project for the Nebraska Department of Transportation, $18.3 million; and
  • The Ohio River Rail Improvement Project, a $32 million rail project on behalf of the Ohio Rail Development Commission, $16.3 million.

WSP has developed a favorable reputation among transportation organizations for the firm’s capabilities and experience in preparing grant applications for competitive funding programs like INFRA.

“WSP has demonstrated a proven success record with federal grant applications over the past decade, with an ability to show the benefits that will be realized through these important infrastructure projects,” Hwang said.

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Wildlife-vehicle collisions account for almost 10 percent of crashes along Interstate 25, twice as frequently as the average on other similar Colorado roadways.