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When the freeway was new

Principal Shalah Sims is shown in her office at the West Campus.
Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District
       With I-25 interchange projects going on simultaneously at Cimarron and Fillmore, it kindles memories of when the old structures - as well as the freeway itself - were brand new.
       Adding historical relevancy, the basic freeway layout from back then (more than 55 years ago) is still in place. This includes all the interchange locations for what was then called Colorado Springs' “Monument Valley Freeway.”
       A booklet by the Colorado Department of Highways, dated July 1, 1960, provides numerous facts about the project.
       For starters, it wasn't actually an interstate yet. The Monument Valley Freeway was initially US Highway 87 through Colorado. It was part of the route established for the national interstate system, but that system was not yet formalized in 1960. Does anybody know when the name was changed to I-25? That's one fact that remains elusive.
       Here are some items from the booklet:
  • The interstate system was created in 1944 by an act of Congress, which included designating the basic line for US 87 through Colorado.
  • As state and Pikes Peak region officials fine-tuned the US 87 plan in the late 1940s, three possible routes were considered through Colorado Springs. One was the “Union Avenue Line,” through what was then the eastern edge of the city. A second possibility was the “Shooks Run Line,” using the right of way for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad through what was then considered the “eastern section of the city” (as far east as Prospect Street, as far west as Nevada).
           The third proposal, the one eventually chosen, was the “Walnut Street Line,” designed to go through what was then the center of the city. The booklet quotes a report that the Walnut Line was considered best “as related to through traffic, local traffic and vehicular movement within the city.”
  • Considerable credit for moving the project forward is given to Robert Hendee of Colorado Springs, who in 1954 “was appointed to his first term on the newly created Colorado Highway Commission and in his quiet, friendly way began a thorough study of the proposal.”
  • Because much of the city's center was already developed, numerous people living or working within the planned freeway swath were displaced. The booklet states that the Colorado Department of Highways (a predecessor to the current Colorado Department of Transportation), bought a total of 502.9 acres in 321 separate parcels from 236 owners at an overall cost of $3,462,690.

    The original Cimarron interchange is shown under construction in a photo looking north that appears in a booklet published by the Colorado Department of Highways commemorating the official opening of the "Monument Valley Freeway" through Colorado Springs in July 1960. Also part of the construction was Cimarron itself, which previously went west no farther than the confluence of Monument and Fountain creeks. The new interchange shown in the photo is the one that's being replaced in the current project.
    Westside Pioneer photo
  • Grading work started in November 1955.
  • As work continued, the four-lane freeway opened incrementally. “As quickly as a section of the Freeway was completed, it was opened to traffic,” the booklet states.
  • One of the project subcontractors is a familiar Westside name - “Pinello (Nick) Contractor.”
           The length of the project (from Woodmen Road to present-day Circle Drive) was 11.9 miles. (Note: When built, it had two lanes each way, but left space in the median to add a lane in either direction - and this was accomplished between the early '90s and mid-2000s.)
           The original cost of the Monument Valley Freeway was $12,206,682 (including right of way). By contrast, that's less than the present-day cost to replace the Fillmore interchange alone.
           Other numbers from the project include 38 bridges, 4,880,000 cubic yards of dirt excavated, 47,867 lineal feet of pipe laid and 56,836 lineal feet of electric conduit.
           Planners estimated that initial traffic would be 7,500 vehicles a day between Bijou and Cimarron and 6,500 between Cimarron and Nevada. The current estimate of traffic through the Cimarron interchange is more than 100,000 a day.
           The booklet includes these upbeat comments - “The Freeway was designed to provide the utmost in safety, convenience and usefulness and was planned in accordance with the latest standards for the urban highway development on the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways… The Freeway belongs to the Public and it is the hope of the Colorado Department of Highways that it will be used wisely and well.”

    Westside Pioneer article