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ARCHIVED  November 5, 1999

Study warns of I-25 overload

Northern Colorado motorists are driving more and driving longer distances

Residents of the north Front Range region are driving more.

Even taking into account the region’s growth, the number of automobile trips per day is up. According to the 1998 Mobility Report Card prepared for the North Front Range Transportation and Air Quality Planning Council, trips increased 20.3 percent between 1995 and 1998. That’s nearly double the growth in number of new households, which expanded 10.5 percent during the same period.

The report shows “a pretty amazing increase in vehicle miles traveled, which was pretty surprising ´ said Randy Hensley, Fort Collins policy and budget manager for transportation. “We knew that population was increasing in this area, so we suspected that vehicle miles were going to increase. But the rate of increase was so much greater than population increase.”

Essentially, the report card shows people driving more, making more and longer trips, Hensley said.

“From a congestion and air-quality point of view, that’s going to be a problem,” he said.

There is little in the way of comprehensive data that describes exactly who is going where. But anecdotal evidence suggests that at the heart of the growing number of trips may be a trend that area real estate experts have been discussing for several years now, namely regionalization.

Evidence exists to support the theory that substantial numbers of homeowners live in one Northern Colorado city, work in a second and may have spouses who work in a third. These mobile residents shop and do other errands in any or all of the communities where they now live and work.

Larry Kendall, chairman of The Group Inc. real estate firm, estimates that as many as 30,000 Northern Colorado residents get up each weekday morning and go to work in a different town than they slept in.

Housing costs and employment opportunities are factors fueling this trend, he said.

Kendall said that buyers no longer go into to a Loveland real estate office and ask to look at properties in Loveland. “Now they’ll say, åWe want to look in Fort Collins, Windsor, Greeley, Johnstown and Berthoud.’ They’ll start naming the cities as if they were subdivisions,” he said.

Kendall and others call Interstate 25 the Main Street of this larger regional community, and sales tax figures seem to bear that out.

In Fort Collins, for instance, Hensley said that about 30 percent to 40 percent of sales tax revenues collected by the city come from people who live outside the city — in Loveland, Greeley and as far away as Cheyenne and Laramie.

Travel models show that trip numbers along the I-25 corridor between Fort Collins and Denver are likely to continue to grow over the next 20 years, according to the Transportation Alternatives Feasibility Study. The study examined traffic counts along the Interstate 25 corridor between Fort Collins and downtown Denver.

According to the study, travel models project that in 2020 roughly 66,000 people a day will make round-trip commutes along I-25 to Denver or Boulder from Northern Colorado. About 30 percent of those travelers will come from Fort Collins, 23 percent from Loveland and 47 percent from Greeley and Weld County.

Traffic models also predict that some 55,000 cars per day will make a reverse commute from the metro area to Northern Colorado.

Those numbers bode ill for congestion and travel time between the northern cities and the metro area, according to the study. Consultants project that travel time will nearly triple by 2020 without major improvements to the I-25 corridor.

On the positive side, the study showed that the corridor has higher than average vehicle occupancy rates — 1.2 to 1.3. Nationwide, auto occupancy rates average 1.1.

In September, a steering committee for the Northern Front Range Transportation Alternatives Feasibility Study recommended a menu of improvements to address predicted congestion including a regional bus network, high-occupancy vehicle and bus lanes and passenger rail service.

Northern Colorado’s 1998 Mobility Report Card also offers a snapshot of growing traffic volumes along the I-25 corridor. In the period between the 1995 and 1998, daily automobile volumes grew 44.8 percent on I-25 south of Wellington; 36.3 percent on I-25 south of Harmony Road; and 23.4 percent on I-25 south of Colorado Highway 60.

To ease the strain of this hand-over-fist growth, Kendall says that the problem solvers must see regionalization as key.

“What a lot of government leaders don’t realize when they’re trying to control growth or control traffic, is that they really need to look at this as a region,” he said.

The answers to the region’s traffic problems could come from the same trend that Kendall believes is causing many of them.

Northern Colorado motorists are driving more and driving longer distances

Residents of the north Front Range region are driving more.

Even taking into account the region’s growth, the number of automobile trips per day is up. According to the 1998 Mobility Report Card prepared for the North Front Range Transportation and Air Quality Planning Council, trips increased 20.3 percent between 1995 and 1998. That’s nearly double the growth in number of new households, which expanded 10.5 percent during the same period.

The report shows “a pretty amazing increase in vehicle miles traveled, which was pretty surprising ´ said Randy Hensley, Fort Collins policy…

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