$$ at last for Cimarron, Fillmore interchanges

       After years of waiting and advocating, the region is about to get double prizes - state funding to allow construction of new I-25 interchanges at both Cimarron and Fillmore.

In the foreground, part of a new 2-acre detention pond was getting shaped this week, about where northbound Chestnut Street once passed by houses and a gas station en route to Fillmore. The pond is part of the continuing Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority project that includes relocating Chestnut to the west. In the background is the Fillmore/I-25 interchange.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Preliminary plans show them being built essentially back to back, according to information provided this week by Don Garcia and Mark Andrew of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) at a meeting of the Mesa Springs Community Association.
       Groundbreaking on Fillmore could happen as early as February, with 14 to 16 months for completion, the engineers explained. So that work would be wrapping up around the time Cimarron is getting started - about a year and a half from now, with two years required for its build-out, Andrew estimated.
       “It's not just a sigh of relief, it's joy and excitement,” said El Paso County Commissioner/ Westsider Sallie Clark, “because these are long-time-coming projects.”

Looking west from the Cimarron-Conejos bridge, the current Cimarron/I-25 interchange can be seen as motorists turn left onto the northbound ramp.
Westside Pioneer photo

       In a vote last spring by the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments board (including Clark), Cimarron had been deemed the number one regional transportation priority, followed by Fillmore. The two interchanges, about three miles apart, are each over half a century old.
       The funding will come from a new CDOT program called Responsible Acceler-ation of Maintenance and Partnerships (RAMP), in which regions around the state competed this year for a limited amount of state transportation money. The local region consists of the governments in El Paso, Park and Teller counties.
       Fillmore will receive $11 million, covering the cost of the interchange and some ramp improvements.
       Cimarron's RAMP share is $24 million, which will be combined with money already in hand from other sources (including $5 million pledged from Colorado Springs and $1 million from the county) to handle the full $95 million cost, according to Kathleen Krager, the city's transportation manager.
       Garcia pointed out that Cimarron's price tag seems high because the project will be more than a new interchange and ramps. The work will also ease a “substandard” curve in the interstate just south of Cimarron,” he said. “If you ask why it's so expensive, that's why.”
       The Fillmore interchange style will be unique to the region and the third of its type in Colorado, Andrew said. (One's being built in Grand Junction and another planned on Highway 36.)
       The style is called a diverging diamond interchange (DDI). In a DDI layout, through traffic is directed to the left instead of the right (from stoplights at either end of the bridge). Because this eliminates the need for left-turn signals at the bridge on/off-ramps, engineers believe the bridge will have a safe and smooth traffic flow.
       A public meeting on the Fillmore work will be scheduled before the start of construction, probably in January, according to Shane Ferguson, also of CDOT, who joined Andrew and Garcia at the Mesa Springs meeting.
       They already started hearing suggestions there. After being told that the overall appearance will be similar to the Bijou interchange, one attendee asked if the rock color could be red instead of Bijou's white because “we don't have white rock here, we have red rock.”
       Technically, the State Transportation Commission still needs to vote on the final RAMP selections Oct. 17, but “it's more of a formality,” said Garcia. “My understanding is the commission has blessed it already.” And neither he nor Andrew offered any conditionality in their presentation to Mesa Springs.
       Clark noted that the Transportation Commission even had a hand in making the selections. She said she's heard from this region's commissioner that they're “pretty much guaranteed.” She credited the commissioner, Les Gruen, for having “fought pretty hard for those projects. We were competing with the whole state.”
       Krager also spoke with confidence this week about the RAMP money. Observing that the commission has already “published the full list for each region,” the appointed body's members would just be asking for trouble if they “start messing with it” now, she said.
       Design work has been occurring for close to a year on both interchanges, using previously allocated CDOT funds. For Fillmore, the design should be ready by the time the project is ready to go out for bids, Garcia said.
       For Cimarron, only a percentage of the project is to be designed in advance. So when construction is ready to start - sometime in 2015, based on CDOT's rough schedule - CDOT plans to hire a contractor under a “design/build” strategy that will configure the rest of the project as the work moves forward. This will allow more innovation and less bureaucracy, Garcia said. A similar approach was used for the COSMIX I-25-widening project from 2005 to 2007.
       Fillmore and Cimarron had both been cleared in the environmental assessment for COSMIX, but its $150 million funding package was not enough to work on them at that time (except for Fillmore's southbound on-ramp and northbound off-ramp).
       Speaking specifically of the wait on Fillmore, Garcia said he himself has been involved in CDOT planning for a replacement interchange there since 1995.

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