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I-25: It's only getting worse 

click to enlarge JOSEPH SOHM/SHUTTERSTOCK
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Raise your hand if you're sick and tired of driving Interstate 25 between Colorado Springs and Denver. Stomp your feet in disgust if you've had enough of crawling at 5 to 10 miles per hour, mile after mile, in that ridiculously overloaded stretch between Monument Hill and Castle Rock.

Go ahead and let out a profane growl if you've missed an appointment, flight, meeting or family gathering totally because of lost time on the Road We Love to Hate.

Many thousands of us share the same anger, actually outrage. The old movie line from Network truly does apply to us: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore."

Except that we have no choice.

I've been driving I-25 between Colorado Springs and Denver for nearly four decades, since first moving here in 1977. Obviously, the typical everyday traffic wasn't so congested then except during summer tourism season. But the freeway was just two lanes on each side from downtown Colorado Springs all the way to the Denver suburbs around Arapahoe Road. So all it took was a fender-bender or even a state trooper nabbing a speeder to clog the road, even on both sides because of that maddening species of drivers known as looky-loos.

Hard to believe, this many years later, we still have the same two lanes on each side for 18 crazy miles, from the El Paso-Douglas county line to Castle Rock. That stretch should have been widened a quarter-century ago, with added capacity for even four lanes on each side. But it never happened. During the 1990s, Democratic Gov. Roy Romer (1987-1999) didn't care much about catering to Colorado Springs. Denver's explosive growth and state budgetary limitations provided negative factors in the new millennium, but the next two governors, Republican Bill Owens (1999-2007) and Democrat Bill Ritter (2007-2011) never made I-25 a priority.

The tide turned after Gov. John Hickenlooper arrived. Because Hickenlooper had direct ties to Colorado Springs, going back to starting the Phantom Canyon Brewing Co., he connected with the region and understood the issues down here. Plus, he had his own experiences as a regular I-25 driver.

So it was no coincidence that a fast-track funding program helped achieve the first widening, a third lane on each side of I-25 from North Academy Boulevard to Monument. That was completed in 2014, and it helped noticeably. (I know, rush hours are worsening again.)

Earlier this year, the Colorado Department of Transportation embarked on a planning process for adding lanes and capacity for that final 18-mile stretch. Not only that, but before and after being re-elected, Hickenlooper said he intended that expansion work to be finished in his second term. Between that project and the long-awaited I-25/Cimarron interchange, Colorado Springs finally might feel satisfied.

But now, with only two-plus years remaining in office, Hickenlooper might not be able to deliver on that commitment. A few months ago, Colorado Department of Transportation regional director Karen Rowe told the Business Journal that the I-25 planning work shouldn't be construed as a sign of anything else imminent.

"There's just not enough money for all the construction needs," Rowe said. "We don't have any construction funds identified for that area."

There was some hope during this year's General Assembly, when the idea of reclassifying certain funds (mainly the hospital provider fee) could've freed much more money for highway projects, education and other needs. That legislation, with bipartisan support from Hickenlooper and most Democrats along with many Republicans including Springs Mayor John Suthers, passed the state House and could have won Senate approval. But term-limited Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, showing more allegiance to the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity than his own constituents, used his influence to prevent the bill from reaching the Senate floor.

It's still possible that same solution could resurface in 2017, possibly with Democrats controlling the state House and Senate, and we might yet see a legislative miracle for I-25. Actually, the work wouldn't be that traumatic, mainly because of hardly any commerce around the exits and bridges during those 18 miles.

But more likely, we'll have to live with I-25 and its current craziness through the end of this decade.

By then, we really will be mad as hell.

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