I-25 traffic jams are shifting northern Colorado transit plans into high gear. But are commuters ready to ditch their cars?

Northern Colorado region is growing so fast that it’s almost another Denver, and we know how everyone loves I-25 in Denver.

Jayne Niemann had a dream job waiting for her in Denver. The problem was, she lived in Loveland, and driving down Interstate 25 every morning for an hour sounded about as much fun as riding a rollercoaster after a Thanksgiving meal.

Niemann, 36, didn’t want to move because her home was cheap, and she wanted to stay with her roller derby team. She was reluctantly prepared to turn it down. And then a friend told her about Bustang, a service offered by the Colorado Department of Transportation. 

A week later, she waited in the U.S. 34 Park-n-Ride for the bus as a light snow fell at 7 a.m., joining a dozen others for a cushy ride down I-25 while cuddling with her smartphone to her job as an office manager for an industry she loves, an interior design company, off the 16th Street Mall. 

“It was part of my decision to take the job,” Niemann said. “If I couldn’t take this, I probably wouldn’t have taken the job. I like commuting. I don’t like I-25.”

No one really does. 

The northern Colorado region is growing so fast that it’s almost another Denver, and we know how everyone loves I-25 in Denver. Northern Colorado was one of the top 10 in the country in terms of growth just a couple years ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, after a boom that’s lasted nearly two decades. 

Traffic counts on I-25 reflect this: In October 2001, more than 58,000 cars every day on average traveled past a CDOT counter stationed at Colorado 402 near Loveland, but 10 years later, a daily average of 69,000 swept by. In October 2018, a daily average of 84,000 cars traveled by Colorado 402. 

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That growth boom was one of the reasons CDOT decided to put plans for an extra lane on I-25 from Loveland to Fort Collins on the, ahem, fast track after northern Colorado cities came up with the money to help build it. It will be an express lane, but it’s still an extra lane that wasn’t supposed to be there until 2035. The $250 million project should be complete by 2022. 

Yet even with that impending expansion of the interstate from Colorado 402 to Colorado 14 in Fort Collins, most officials believe that public  transportation will have to be a bigger part of commuters’ day to cure the clogged cars. 

Denver’s commuting culture makes it possible for some residents in that area to ride to work without ever starting their car. But now, with several options, not just Bustang, it’s increasingly possible for northern Colorado residents to turn their cars into weekend warriors as well. 

More than adding traffic lanes, buses and trains, the challenge comes down to changing attitudes and the way commuters think about going from place to place.

Kate Williams