A project to realign the interstate through Pueblo could cause a lot of changes for adjacent property owners.
Proposed changes could force around 150 businesses to relocate, while there are mounting concerns about access to the other businesses that are allowed to stay.
The $760 million project will straighten seven miles of I-25 through Pueblo, replacing old bridges and opening it up to six lanes.
A big concern for local business owners: several exits to downtown would be closed.
A problem they pointed out to officials with the Colorado Department of Transportation Thursday.
Sherri Easton says her family's business has been running in the same spot for three generations. Hobb's Linoleum, Tile and Carpet on the corner of Ilex and Santa Fe has been in business for 60 years.
Easton says the proposed changes to the Ilex bridge could greatly affect their business by limiting access to their property, and restricting access on and off the interstate.
"People are short on time these days, everyone is working. When they have a business to go to they want one that is easily accessible," said Easton.
CDOT officials say part of Phase 1 would replace the aging Ilex bridge. They would then shut down Ilex Street, causing it no longer be a through street that connects I-25 northbound. Officials say they would then create another road just north of Hobb's that would reconnect with the interstate, allowing traffic an alternate route to Santa Fe.
But Easton still fears that with Ilex closed, it will be difficult to get to their parking lot and front doors. She also fears isolation, because most of the businesses near them are being forced to relocate.
"I just don't feel like they are concerned with our concerns," Easton said, wishing CDOT would communicate better with affected local businesses.
The first phase would replace both the Ilex and Northern bridges; construction on the Ilex bridge could start next summer with Northern starting in 2014.
The other proposed changes may not come for decades.
But local leaders and business owners still fear the repercussions for the economy of downtown Pueblo.
With the project, several exits leading to downtown would be closed including 1st Street, Indiana, and Minnequa. Others exits would be relocated. A north and southbound frontage road between Santa Fe and I-25 would also be created in order to accommodate both local and interstate traffic.
James Koncilja, a Pueblo attorney and property owner, is greatly concerned with the elimination of the 1st Street exit that leads traffic straight to the heart of downtown. He calls 1st and Main the origin of the community.
"I think main streets are important for any community, but especially Pueblo," said Koncilja.
He also fears what the lack of access to downtown would do to the local economy and the Union Avenue Historic District.
He calls small businesses the backbone of the U.S. economy, and thinks something like this will do great damage to them.
"Unfortunately the large corporations get all the press, but I know down in the Union Avenue Historic District there are businesses that employ from one to 10 people, and make a huge contribution to the economy. I don't want them to be negatively affected by this," said Koncilja.
CDOT officials say the project will improve safety and increase the flow of traffic on a section of I-25 that is over 50 years old.
The I-25 realignment project comes with two alternatives. The first would keep the existing interstate and simply widen it. But it comes at a price, relocating the historic railroad.
The second is the people's choice, and would shift I-25 to the east, turning the old highway into a local road to help relieve congested traffic. But local businesses and property are forced to relocate.
Total both plans could affect around 300 nearby homes and businesses. The changes to the downtown portion of the interstate will stay the same with both plans, according to CDOT officials.
CDOT is continuing to evaluate public comment received on the project proposals. They will release a Final Environmental Impact Study by summer 2012. Again, the public will be able to weigh in.
For more information visit www.i25pueblo.com.
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