COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Drivers are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel -- literally and figuratively -- on the $350 million Interstate 25 "Gap" widening project between Monument and Castle Rock.
In fact, officials with the Colorado Department of Transportation revealed during a virtual media briefing Tuesday that the northern third of the project is nearly finished and will officially open in November.
"The driving is already smoother there," said Tamara Rollison, a CDOT communications manager. "The paving is done. We've improved the two existing lanes in both directions and added the toll lanes, but the toll lanes won't open until all three sections of the project are finished."
Project workers just finished their second year of construction and expect to finish next year, with the 18-mile segment to open in early 2022.
This fall, CDOT plans to complete the five-mile stretch between Tomah Road and Plum Creek Parkway.
The most challenging section, CDOT said, is the middle six miles between Tomah and Greenland roads, primarily because of five bridges that will be either renovated or replaced and the installation of three wildlife crossings.
Work is expected to start next year on replacing the County Line Road bridge marking the boundary between EL Paso and Douglas counties. CDOT said that work will take most of 2021 to finish.
"To help first responders out, we are not going to demolish the entire bridge at once," said Paul Neiman, the Gap project director. "We'll tear it down gradually but will still have a lane of traffic in each direction during that time. The new bridge will be wider and include a turn lane in each direction."
The bridge is in the southern seven miles of the project and will include a southbound lane for trucks descending from Monument Hill to the Port of Entry.
Part of the nearby Monument Hill frontage road has closed until next spring to allow for construction of a wildlife corridor.
Shoulders along the project area will be considerably wider to help provide more space for disabled vehicles, state troopers and emergency responders.
The new third lanes in the northern section will serve as emergency lanes and will switch to express (toll) lanes once the entire project is finished. The cost of using the express lanes is yet to be determined, but CDOT said travel in those lanes will be free during a testing period of several months.
The Gap project includes installing fiber-optic cable and other communication/utility lines to allow for future technology improvements.
CDOT continued to emphasize safety Tuesday, saying that speeding remains a major problem through the Gap.
"66% of all crashes and 80% of all injuries occur from drivers who follow too closely," Rollison said. "The lanes are narrower in the work zones and we've reduced speed limits. We're doing everything we can to improve safety, and drivers need to do their part."
CDOT had installed a variety of speed limit signs, established a safety patrol, reduced crash response times from 40 to 20 minutes, and have re-striped lanes more frequently to help drivers see lanes more clearly.
The Colorado State Patrol has increased enforcement along the Gap, as well.
CDOT thanked drivers for following the agency's advice to avoid the Gap during winter storms, to reduce crashes and traffic congestion.
According to CDOT statistics, crashes in the Gap have risen nearly 50% since the year before the project began. However, that's down from 64% during the first year of construction.
On Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m., CDOT will hold a telephone town hall to answer questions and concerns from the public. The number is 855-710-6230.
CDOT reminds citizens of a variety of ways to contact the agency for questions, concerns and other feedback. You can see those methods above.