BY FREDA MIKLIN – GOVERNMENTAL REPORTER
After continuous efforts over the past nine years to solve the overflowing traffic problem on Belleview Avenue and I-25, the funding partners for this project, the City and County of Denver, Arapahoe County, Greenwood Village, and the Southeast Public Improvement Metropolitan District (SPIMED), have not been able to agree on what should be done to address the problem.
On May 24, Governor Polis announced that $404 million to $414 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan that Colorado will receive will be allocated to projects including those in the categories of transportation and infrastructure, as long as they are “shovel ready.” Since there is no agreed-upon solution for Belleview and I-25 that meets that criterion, it is not possible to even apply for potential funding from either the state or federal government for it. The most recent estimate to address the Belleview and I-25 traffic problem is approximately $110 million, so whatever solution is eventually identified must include state and/or federal funding.
Looking for an answer, chronologically speaking
The City of Greenwood Village lists “Belleview and I-25 Interchange Study” boldly on the traffic and transportation page of its website. One click on that title takes you to the Arapahoe County transportation planning page, which describes the “I-25/Belleview Interchange System Study” as “a transportation study that will help to shape the future of Belleview Avenue from Monaco Street on the west to DTC Boulevard on the east, including the I-25 interchange” which is necessary because, “Belleview Avenue carries 50,000 vehicles per day through Greenwood Village, Denver, and unincorporated Arapahoe County…expected to increase to 60,000 by 2035.” The study timeline shown for the project? “Fall 2012 to Fall 2013.”
A traffic study of the area was completed back in September 2015 by highly experienced local traffic engineers Felsburg Holt & Ullevig. It resulted in a recommended alternative in 2016 that was subsequently shelved.
In 2018, the funding partners retained Wilson and Company, a planning, architecture, environmental, and construction management consulting firm, to begin anew to find a way to address “traffic congestion, user safety, and lack of multimodal choices and connectivity.” By that time, Belleview Station, a 51-acre mixed-use development in Denver, just north of Belleview Avenue and west of Quebec Street, was well into its ongoing growth spurt. It now includes several 15-story office buildings, retail stores and restaurants, and hundreds of multi-family residences. Construction is chugging along, with two hotels also in the plans, one of which is already out of the ground.
On October 20, 2020, John Chesser, of Wilson and Company, presented a virtual webinar to explain the consultants’ findings after two years of meetings about Belleview and I-25 with stakeholders, the technical advisory committee, and the executive committee of elected officials.
Chesser described in great detail the process by which various alternatives were evaluated. Ten possible alternatives were eliminated in the first three levels of screening. The two remaining possibilities, in addition to doing nothing, were: 1) Single Point Urban Interchange (SPUI), which changes Belleview and I-25 from two separate interchanges, one going north and one going south into one, into one, eliminating signal timing problems; and 2) Split Diamond, which creates the ability to disperse traffic onto a new exit at Union Avenue that can be accessed from I-25 and I-225. The Union Avenue bridge over I-25 would be widened, adding multi-modal elements such as bus only lanes, new sidewalks, and new bike lanes.
The alternatives were evaluated based on traffic
operations, safety, multi-
modal, community impacts, and cost. The cost was estimated at $105 million to $115 million for each. The largest difference between the choices was seen in constructability. The Split Diamond was heavily favored in this area because it can be phased, thus has considerably less impact on motorists and would not require all the money to be available at one time.
On November 20, Wilson and Company posted an updated study of traffic, multimodal, and safety predicted to the year 2040 to the project website, www.improvei25belleview.com. It said that the Split Diamond alternative with Frontage Road option was “the best performing alternative overall,” and that “cumulative queue lengths for all intersections in the study area would be generally shorter (reflecting more efficient operations) with the Split Diamond alternative when compared to the SPUI. More specifically, the Split Diamond with south side frontage road at the Quebec Street intersection would provide the shortest total queue lengths throughout the system.”
A level of service analysis for all impacted intersections all the way from Union and Syracuse to Orchard and I-25 also resulted in the most favorable results for the Split Diamond with Frontage Road option. The SPUI alternative was noted as providing “slightly better safety than the Split Diamond.” On the question of multi-modal, the report said that “the SPUI alternative would offer the same results as the No-Build.”
When the funding partners met after that report was issued, they were unable to achieve a unified consensus, which was their stated goal. The consultants’ planned work was completed.
The group agreed to move forward with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) dated April 21 which states that Wilson will be retained for an additional $200,000 to review and evaluate a new, previously not-considered alternative during the six months from April to November, 2021. However, this time, the entire cost of the additional work will be borne solely by The City and County of Denver. All funding partners signed the MOU, which The Villager had an opportunity to review.
Denver is represented in this ongoing effort to identify a brand new preferred alternative by its Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, headed by Eulois Cleckley, its executive director, who signed the MOU. On May 24, it was announced that Cleckley will be leaving Denver to accept a new position as Director and CEO of the Department of Transportation and Public Works in Miami-Dade