Applause for Gruen’s I-25 work

In case some of you missed it, the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments recently approved new plans and shuffled funding for a $95 million project to rebuild the Interstate 25 interchange at Cimarron Street / U.S. Highway 24.

The construction will take shape quickly in the form of a design-build timetable that will hasten completion, now expected to happen by midyear 2017. The planned outlay of funding includes $17 million this year, $30 million in 2015 (when construction work actually will begin), $25 million in 2016 and another $15 million in the first half of 2017. That leaves just $8 million for the rest of 2017, so the assumption is that most work could be done in time for the 2017 summer tourism season.

We need to single out a person who deserves to be recognized as a hero for Colorado Springs after his determined role in making this new interchange happen.

Les Gruen, president of Urban Strategies Inc. and a longtime presence in the area’s developer ranks, has served since 2007 as this region’s representative on the Colorado Transportation Commission. Gruen’s area includes El Paso, Teller, Fremont and Park counties, but he has faced challenges on that 11-member commission, four of whom live in the Denver area. Gruen’s only geographical ally is commissioner Bill Thiebaut of Pueblo, the former district attorney there and not always known in the past as a close friend to Colorado Springs.

Yet, from all reports, Gruen has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make the I-25 interchange happen, accelerating its status on the state’s timetables and helping find enough funding to pull it off. We can only assume that without someone as knowledgeable and forceful as Gruen maneuvering through the funding and approval system, there’s no way this would be happening now.

Gruen can’t directly oversee the actual construction, though, and now a different burden of pressure will fall on the Colorado Department of Transportation. As the complex project unfolds, it’ll be up to CDOT to divert as much traffic as possible from having to pass through that area, especially during the summer tourism periods of Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Without someone so knowledgeable maneuvering through the system, there’s no way this would be happening now.

This has major implications for businesses and attractions west of Interstate 25, which count many thousands of travelers finding their way off I-25 to their destinations. Particularly in the summers of 2015 and 2016, but perhaps 2017 as well if the interchange isn’t finished, we could be looking at gargantuan logjams.

It’ll be up to the state to minimize that chaos by giving visitors multiple options, such as getting off at other exits such as South Nevada, Bijou, Uintah, Fillmore, Garden of the Gods and North Nevada. Most could only handle cars, and it’ll be a difficult task, if not sometimes nearly impossible.

But at least we’ll have the positive psychology of drivers being able to see serious ongoing work toward a far better Cimarron interchange, eventually meaning less stress on travelers as well as local commuters.

It should have been done decades ago, when planners first made it a top priority (in 1971). But at least the wait is nearly over. And at some point, we hope Les Gruen receives all the credit he richly deserves.