COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- On Monday, a year after plans were announced for four key road projects to improve access and mobility for area military installations, local leaders officially kicked-off construction.
At 3 p.m., officials gathered at Centennial Hall in downtown Colorado Springs to start the Military Access, Mobility and Safety Improvement Projects.
The projects include a mile of safety improvements along Highway 94 near Schriever Air Force Base, widening a mile of South Academy Boulevard between Interstate 25 and Bradley Road, 7.5 miles of safety and infrastructure upgrades on I-25 between South Academy and Santa Fe Avenue in Fountain, and improving access to Fort Carson’s Gate 19.
Local and state funds will finance the bulk of the estimated $159 million price, Officials applied for a $25 million federal grant to pay for some of the work, but the grant allocated a lesser amount -- $18 million.
The projects will be completed gradually and should be finished within the next 10 years, officials said. The cost is $30.5 million above last year's estimate, but officials said that additional work -- such as improvements on Powers Boulevard -- have been added.
When officials announced the projects at an event attended by Gov. Jared Polis last year, they said the projects would be an advantage in the area’s effort to attract the Defense Department’s new Space Command.
The projects also are designed to help local military installations better handle growth and improve transportation in the area’s growing community, and also will benefit civilians who travel in those busy corridors.
But officials said safety is just as important because so much traffic congestion is caused by crashes.
"The first official duty that my wife and (I) had, was to go to the funeral of an Air Force Reserves captain who had been killed two or three days before the change of command," said James Ross, a retired colonel and former commander of the 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base.
"She was Capt. Vivian Elmo," he said, "and she was killed in a two-car accident on Highway 94 as she was done for the day, just trying to come home. It was absolutely heartbreaking. It's still very raw."
Rodney Fannin, an El Paso County Sheriff's deputy at the time, served 90 days in jail and was fired after being convicted of careless driving resulting in death. Prosecutors said he struck Elmo's vehicle after he ran a red light while he was off-duty, and was already on probation for a previous careless driving conviction.
"We've got to make these busy highways as safe as they can be -- for the military and for civilians," Ross said.