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All lanes of the Interstate 25 South Gap project will open nearly a year ahead of schedule, Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado transportation officials announced Nov. 22.

Construction on the 18-mile stretch of highway was slated to conclude in November 2022, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“By mid-December, in time for Christmas, the I-25 South Gap project team will open all lanes of travel,” Polis said at a news conference in Larkspur, alongside U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and state and local officials.

The I-25 South Gap from Monument to Castle Rock is Colorado’s longest construction zone. The $419 million project began in September 2018 to relieve congestion and reduce traffic accidents along the highway, a central route between Denver and Colorado Springs that has seen traffic worsen as both metro areas have grown in population.

Nearly 85,000 motorists travel the highway — unaffectionately nicknamed “the gap” — daily, said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers at the news conference.

“Everyone agreed it was unacceptable that the two largest cities in Colorado … Denver and Colorado Springs, were separated by a dangerously narrow section of roadway,” Suthers said.

The project added one new express lane in each direction, widened shoulders, rebuilt five bridges and created four new wildlife crossings.

The expansion will hopefully be a boon to traffic safety, said Col. Matthew Packard, chief of Colorado State Patrol, saying widened shoulders give much more room to first responders, tow trucks, and broken-down motorists.

Packard recalled CSP troopers Jaimie Jursevics and Cody Donahue, who were hit and killed by drivers during traffic stops along the stretch of highway in 2015 and 2016.

“We talked about this project serving as a way to honor their legacy,” Packard said. “We’ve done that… but the most important part of safety is the person behind the steering wheel. Drive like your mom’s watching.”

Although lanes will be reopened to traffic next month, other work along the highway will continue into next spring, said Tim Maloney, vice president of the construction company Kraemer North America.

That includes final paving and striping, landscaping, and installing 28 miles of new deer fencing. The project also includes modernizing power and communications infrastructure along the highway, which will be completed sometime next year.

Officials are encouraging drivers to slow down and look for workers as they pass through the corridor.

Once the highway opens all lanes, drivers can use the express lanes without paying a toll until testing is complete in fall 2022, according to state officials. Final toll rates have not been determined yet.

Douglas County Commissioner George Teal told The Colorado Sun the expansion project should help ease congestion for roughly the next decade.

“At least that’s better than four years ago, when everyone hated driving through here, and locals told me they quit using this stretch,” Teal said.

Teal called the collaboration between county, state and federal officials an example of bipartisanship, one he sees as extending to the driving public.

“Everybody has to drive on the roads, whether you’re Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or Communist,” Teal said. “We all need good roads.”

Bennet, the U.S. senator, touted Democrats’ national infrastructure package at the news conference. He told The Sun he didn’t see the project as out of alignment with goals to cut carbon emissions in the face of climate change.

“We’ve got generations worth of delayed infrastructure spending in this country, including existing roads and bridges,” Bennet said, saying that the recently-passed federal infrastructure bill includes substantial funding to build charging stations for electric vehicles or EVs.

“We’ve got to make sure as we do all of this,” Bennet said of the highway expansion, “we’re transitioning to a cleaner economy.”

This story is from The Colorado Sun, a journalist-owned news outlet based in Denver and covering the state. For more, and to support The Colorado Sun, visit coloradosun.com. The Colorado Sun is a partner in the Colorado News Conservancy, owner of Colorado Community Media.