The frequent traffic backups along RidgeGate Parkway are something to be expected these days. With just two lanes — one in each direction — for through traffic, backups can reach half a mile from the stoplight at the RidgeGate and I-25 interchange.
Recent counts show the traffic in that area to be between 26,000 and 28,000 cars per day, according to Lone Tree's public works director, Justin Schmitz. The city does regular counts of traffic. That range is an average over an entire week. Typically, it is recommended that a road be expanded to four lanes once it hits about 16,000 cars per day, Schmitz said. A count of roughly 36,000 cars per day typically calls for expanding to six lanes.
To address the problem, the City of Lone Tree has spearheaded the RidgeGate Parkway Widening Project, a nearly $27 million expense shared by several funding partners. By 2021, plans call for the road to be expanded to four lanes, with bike paths and sidewalks. From I-25 to Peoria, the road will eventually widen to six lanes as needed.
“This has been an ongoing need for the region,” Schmitz said.
Though RidgeGate Parkway gets its name for the neighborhood it cuts through, it turns into Parker's Mainstreet, which is just about at the town's center — making it a major arterial road not just for future Lone Tree residents, but for Parker residents on their way to and from work. And for the time being, it's mostly Parker residents.
The Town of Parker is not contributing any funds to the widening project, but officials have been coordinating with Parker on the project.
“It's good for northeast Douglas County,” said Chris Hudson, Parker's public works manager. “And also, truthfully, western Elbert County. There are a lot of people that live there that commute through.”
Hudson began working for the town in 1999. During a meeting in Parker shortly after he started, Hudson recalled the initial discussions about what is known today as RidgeGate Parkway.
At the time, a two-lane dirt road cut diagonally through northern Douglas County, connecting with Lincoln Avenue, and it was known as West Parker Road.
“There were times when people said 'RidgeGate is never going to go to I-25. Mainstreet's never going to I-25,'” Hudson said. “You've got to believe. And it finally did.”
RidgeGate Parkway was extended to connect with Parker's Mainstreet in 2011. It cut through what is now known as RidgeGate East, providing yet another east-west connection for commuters from Parker, Franktown, Elizabeth and parts of unincorporated Douglas and Elbert counties.
Once the road opened, getting from I-25 to eastern Douglas County immediately became easier. About a year or two in, the not-so-secret RidgeGate Parkway began to reach its capacity.
“Consequently, with all the growth that is occurring … people now, in the morning and evening commutes, they avoid RidgeGate Parkway because how congested it gets, especially where it narrows down and you approach I-25,” said Tom Williams, Parker's director of public works. Parker Road and other town roadways bear the brunt of extra traffic congestion for people traveling south of town who could be better suited using RidgeGate Parkway instead of Parker Road, he said.
'Meet the needs of today'
The RidgeGate Parkway Widening Project is being constructed in two phases. The first phase began in April and is expected to be finished by January. That phase includes the construction of two bridges, one crossing Badger Gulch and another across Happy Canyon Creek. The second phase began recently and includes earth work and prep work to widen the rest of the parkway. Phase two is not expected to be finished until spring of 2021.
“To the general public, as you drive it today, you should not anticipate any significant delays. The current lane capacity — one lane each direction — that will be maintained throughout the entire project,” Schmitz said. “There may be short-time closures for a little bit of work, but during peak hours it's going to remain in the same condition it is in today. Once it is complete, they (drivers) will experience (better traffic).”
The $26.9 million project is being funded by multiple partners. The Colorado Department of Transportation and the Denver Regional Council of Governments funded about $6.4 million. Douglas County contributed $2.5 million, the Southeast Public Improvement Metro District contributed $2.5 million and the Rampart Range Metro District contributed $15.5 million. The project is managed by the city.
“The county stepped up and put a lot of money into this project with Lone Tree,” Hudson said.
Part of the refinement of the RidgeGate Widening Project was to install a one-way couplet — a pair of parallel streets running in opposite directions — that would extend through the future retail zone of East RidgeGate, similar to Martin Luther King Boulevard in Denver, which has a King Soopers in the middle of the couplet.
The city will also be providing a multi-use path and bike track along the entire 2.2-mile section.
“What (the project is) really doing is allowing the roadways to meet the needs of today, and all the commuters on it, as well as accommodate the future growth in Lone Tree east of I-25,” Schmitz said. “This is allowing for all that future growth to come in and use that new roadway.”
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