COLORADO SPRINGS — Wednesday marked the groundbreaking for the long-awaited Powers and Research interchange project.
Expected to be complete in early 2023, the current signalized intersection at Powers Blvd (CO-21) and Research Pkwy will become a grade-separated, diverging diamond interchange.
When it’s complete, Powers will become a non-stop freeway between Woodmen Road and Interquest Pkwy (CO-83).
The project has been on the books for years. It’s one step closer to CDOT’s ultimate goal to make Powers a controlled-access freeway across the board.
“For ease of traffic, it’s awesome. I live here. I know this intersection stinks,” Pies and Grinders owner Daniel Dreyfuss said.
But for Dreyfuss, Wednesday’s groundbreaking is also a little unnerving.
“The end result will be great, but it’s gonna present challenges for sure,” Dreyfuss said.
His restaurant and dozens of other businesses back right up to busy Powers Blvd at Research Pkwy.
“With restaurants it’s location, location, location,” he said.
With construction beginning to roll, that location is becoming harder to see from Powers.
“That’s gonna hurt,” he said. “The other aspect that’s gonna hurt is accessibility, obviously.”
Already, he’s dealing with some of the growing pains.
“Tonight, they’re cutting off our power,” he said.
But for the traffic engineers behind this fairly unique project, they’ve spent countless hours working to minimize the impact their work will have while underway.
“We’ve been working on the design for two to three years,” CDOT Program Engineer Shane Ferguson said.
In fact that work started with their decision to elevate Powers over Research, rather than vice-versa.
“If we’re putting Research over Powers, how does that impact all the side streets and the driveways,” Ferguson said.
While it’s not everyday our area sees and existing intersection get converted into an interchange, the Powers project is almost identical to the current US-50 and Purcell Blvd interchange project in Pueblo West. That project, which will convert the intersection into a traditional diamond interchange (not be be confused with a diverging diamond), has been underway for about a year.
In the case of the 50/Purcell project, all lanes of traffic on both roads will be able to stay open throughout most of construction.
The process starts with building the future exit and entrance ramps alongside the existing intersection. Once those are built, the ramps temporarily become the main route for US-50 traffic. Traffic will have to exit the highway, then re-enter until the bridge passing over Purcell is built. Ideally, the intersection never has to close.
The same thing will happen at Powers and Research, that is, until crews start converting Research Pkwy into a diverging diamond flow. Crews won’t start the conversion until the new bridge on Powers over Research is open.
The problem is, since a diverging diamond completely switches the way traffic flows, there will be no way to let traffic drive on it while the conversion is underway.
“It may take a weekend and some closures to get that set up correctly,” Ferguson said.
And that’s where Dreyfuss gets concerned.
“Just the simple delivery to Wolf Ranch or Cordera that might’ve taken four minutes, and now we’ve gotta loop around, that might take 15 minutes,” he said.
There are some trade offs.
“Hopefully the construction workers, the crew, all of them will support us,” Dreyfuss said.
“If they can frequent some of those businesses, it really helps out,” Ferguson said.
And for Dreyfuss, he’s trying to keep an open mind.
“Anything that keeps the area more viable I guess adds value,” he said.
Ferguson said the timeline on the project is between 18 and 22 months. After that, CDOT’s next Powers priority will be to convert the existing at-grade intersection at Powers and Airport in a grade-separated, diverging diamond interchange as well.
The funds brought by Colorado Senate Bill 260, which Governor Jared Polis recently signed into law, will fund the Powers and Airport project. There currently is no timeline for that project.