Major changes could be on the way for I-25 through Southern Colorado. The public is weighing in on a proposed project that would improve the interstate through Pueblo.
It is one of the oldest sections of I-25 in Colorado, built over 50 years ago. This $750 million project would improve safety and increase the flow of traffic by designing an interstate to meet the needs of people today.
Hundreds gathered Thursday night at a public hearing to give their input about the proposed project that has been in the works for a decade.
"It needs to be done. The highway is too old. And if they want to change the reputation of Pueblo, you change it by improving ways to get here and making it look nicer," said Pueblo native Rebecca Hoffmann.
She adds, "People are tired of thinking of us as the 'Old Steel City.' We want to be better, we want them to realize that this is a good place to be, it is a good community, and we just want to improve on that."
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 modified alternative is considered the people's choice. It would shift I-25 to the east, turning the old highway into a local road helping relieve congested traffic.
"I think it opens up access to the businesses and neighborhoods and allows the neighborhoods to be better connected to each other, allows for some trails for hiking," said Dave Balsick, president of the Bessemer Association for Neighborhood Development.
The purpose of the project is to improve safety by replacing deteriorating roadways and bridges, and improve traffic flow accommodating both local and regional traffic in order to meet existing and future travel demands.
Both plans offer some key improvements:
-Widening the highway into three lanes in each direction
-Straightening tight curves
-Reconstructing interchanges to improve safety and traffic flow
-Adding or widening shoulders
-Constructing trails and bridges to enhance bicycle and pedestrian safety
But both plans would affect around 300 nearby homes and businesses. Some would be partially affected, others torn down.
"I had restored my house to over 300 years more of life. And it's already 130 years old. I don't want it tore down," said home owner James Sears. He adds, "If you are gonna buy my house and tear it down, I want to be paid for those 300 more years of life I've given it."
Balsick has been involved with the project since it began over a decade ago. He says all involved have worked very hard with engineers to ensure that the least number of homes and businesses would be affected.
Balsick is in favor of the modified interstate alternative plan. He feels it will have a positive effect on Pueblo without too much negative effect on residents.
Balsick is in favor of having an alternative way to get from the north side of town to the south side of town without having to get onto the six lanes of new freeway.
"It connects Santa Fe to Abriendo to downtown to Bessemer. It allows good access to businesses, but keeps heavy traffic off of the same roads that we try to use every day," said Balsick.
Balsick says that some neighborhoods were split by the original I-25, including the Bessermer neighborhood. He feels this will reconnect those neighborhoods and open up more opportunities and parks for people to access close to home.
Vince Gagliano owns a business that would be affected by either project. He says his business on Elm Street has been family owned for 91 years. It would not be forced to close down, but he fears the construction would drive his business away.
"The potential to hurt me is from the construction and the access to my business for suppliers and customers," said Gagliano.
He says that the business is on a very narrow one-way street, between the proposed construction for two bridges. He is afraid he won't be able to keep the lights on.
The public could also choose to not accept either alternative.
Sears strongly opposes both alternatives. He believes there is a third and even better option. Sears thinks they should build a new freeway on the far east side of Pueblo. He wants it to be created out by the Pueblo Memorial Airport. He feels they could utilize the airport, railroad, and interstate to create a hub for mass international shipping.
Sears says there is virtually undeveloped land out east. And with nothing standing in the way, they could get the project done a lot sooner and for less money. It also wouldn't force any residents to move. He thinks by creating a high volume corridor that more manufacturing or distribution facilities would come to Pueblo, creating more jobs.
"If we build this, Corporate America will come," said Sears.
CDOT will evaluate public comments on the alternatives in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. They will take that input and create a Final Environmental Impact Statement by summer 2012. Again, the public will be able to view the statement and weigh in.
But it's not too late to give your opinion on this draft. CDOT is accepting input until December 19.
Visit www.i25pueblo.com to share your comment. There you can also find more details about the project. There is also a list of several locations where you can pick up a hard copy of the document.
Construction could start as early as 2013, but the project could take decades to complete.