State Highway 119 is going to be seeing a lot of change in the coming years. The goal is to transform it into a multimodal corridor, similar to US 36, with a managed lane, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and a corridor-wide bikeway in order to help ease congestion and make traveling along the corridor more efficient and enjoyable for all who use it.
Who is part of the State Highway 119 Coalition?
The State Highway 119 Coalition is comprised of the City of Boulder, the City of Longmont, Boulder County and Commuting Solutions. Also involved in the planning and process is the Regional Transit District (RTD), the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), High Performance Transportation Enterprise (HPTE) and the local area chambers.
The SH 119 Coalition provides a political forum to coordinate and to advocate for the local and regional planning and implementation of multi-modal transportation improvements connecting Boulder and Longmont and serving regional and inter-regional travel needs for today and into the future.
What is State Highway 119?
State Highway 119, better known as the Diagonal, is the primary corridor that connects Boulder to Longmont. The highway in its entirety stretches from Clear Creek Canyon between Golden and Idaho Springs to I-25 in Longmont: 63.7 miles. The portion between Boulder and Longmont is roughly 20-miles long and is the focus of the coming changes. Currently the primary ways to travel along State Highway 119 between Longmont and Boulder are driving, riding the BOLT or J bus services operated by RTD and cycling along the LoBo trail.
Why does State Highway 119 needs these changes?
Currently over 45,000 vehicles travel daily along SH 119 and that is only going to increase with the region’s increasing population. By 2040, it is predicted that traffic along the corridor will increase by 25 percent. That would increase the number of vehicles traveling the corridor daily to almost 57,000. And that’s just an estimate.
Currently, State Highway 119 has four-foot shoulder for cyclists to use to travel the corridor, but they are next to high speed lanes of traffic and the majority of cyclists do not feel safe traveling the corridor. Plans have been developed for a commuter bikeway, similar to the US 36 Bikeway, with the aim of providing a safe and efficient multiuse facility along SH 119 that interfaces with the proposed BRT improvements and enhances bicycle and pedestrian usage in the corridor.
In 2016, the Northwest Area Mobility Study was completed to address the significant cost increases and delays associated with building and operating the 41-mile Northwest Rail commuter rail line from Longmont to Denver, which is now projected to be completed by 2045. The study concluded with elected officials, RTD, CDOT and 13 area jurisdictions and agencies reaching consensus on transit priorities in the region in interim of rail coming to our region: the highest of which is implementing BRT on State Highway 119.
In addition, RTD recently conducted a Bus Rapid Transit Feasibility Study. State Highway 119 was identified as one of their top priority projects and an ideal corridor for Bus Rapid Transit.
What is the vision for State Highway 119?
The vision for State Highway 119 borrows from the success of US 36 and aims to replicate a similar model for the corridor. The highway would be expanded to add a Managed/Express Lane in each direction for BRT, High Occupancy Vehicles and vehicles paying a toll, in addition to the already existing general purpose lanes. The multimodal improvements would also include the construction of a paved bikeway along the entire corridor to make it accessible and safe for cyclists.
More specifically, the plan is to implement BRT using managed lanes. BRT and managed lanes will provide:
- Highest travel time savings: 37-minute travel time (29 minutes saved in comparison to the BOLT)
- Best transit service reliability
- Higher transit ridership
- Greatest number of travel options and benefits for all users: vehicles, transit, carpool, express tolls, and bicyclists while reducing congestion. 7,620 – 7,640 people traveling through the corridor per day – a 33% increase compared to the existing corridor
- Improvements can be phased over time as funding becomes available
Why does State Highway 119 need Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)?
Bringing BRT to State Highway 119 is going to reduce traffic congestion and make the corridor faster for everybody to travel. It is projected that travel times will be cut in half by those who use BRT and the Express lanes along the corridor when the project is completed, compared to those driving solo.
In a recent interview with Colorado Public Radio, CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew, praised the US 36 project and the success of BRT along the corridor.
“The U.S. 36 corridor between Denver and Boulder was a CDOT expansion project in a public-private partnership. One of the great innovations of that project is that the managed lane both helps with demand management, which helps from a congestion perspective, and it also provides a really efficient bus route. The Flatiron Flyer is, by the accounts of all who take it, one of the most efficient bus experiences in Colorado. And part of that is because we used our capacity expansion project to create a more efficient bus route. That’s an opportunity that exists in many highway projects.”
The State Highway 119 project hopes to replicate the success of the US 36 corridor and move people more efficiently between Boulder and Longmont.
And what is Bus Rapid Transit exactly?
Bus rapid transit (BRT) service is high-frequency bus service that emulates rail transit, and provides fast and reliable service on a dedicated route. In addition to high-frequency, fast and reliable service, the BRT system along SH 119 will include:
- Managed lanes for BRT to use for expedited travel times
- High-quality stations: Stations that accessible for persons with disabilities, offer shelter from inclement weather and provide up-to-date information on schedules and routes.
- Branding: Consistent branding that identifies the stations and transit vehicles.
- Technology: Streamlining fare collection, transit priority, etc.
- Vehicles that offer rapid boarding and alighting
What will the bikeway look like?
A large component of turning State Highway 119 into a multi-modal corridor is to add a bikeway, similar to the US 36 Bikeway. It will be a continuous, paved path that connects Boulder and Longmont. The plans for the bikeway are in the initial phase of design, but as more funding is identified, they will be able to further the plans. During 2020, Boulder County and CDOT are proceeding to take the corridor bikeway to a higher level of engineering and design to further define the alignment.
Now for the big question, who’s paying for the project?
The total cost of this project is an estimated $250 million including construction of managed lanes, Bus Rapid Transit and the corridor bikeway.
Currently $93 million in funding has been secured for project: $30 million from RTD, $13 million through the Denver Regional Council of Governments, $9 million from CDOT and $1.15 million in local matching. At the end of 2019, CDOT awarded the State Highway 119 an additional $40 million from the funding made available through SB-267.
The State Highway 119 Coalition is continuing looking into funding mechanisms for the project including federal grants, CDOT grants and other innovative funding solutions.
What’s Coming in 2020?
In 2020, the SH 119 Coalition is going to continue with identifying additional funding for the project. There is roughly $160 million in funding that has yet to be secured. Early in the year, they will be applying for a federal BUILD grant to secure funding for improvements to the intersection at SH 119 and Hover in Longmont. BUILD is an acronym for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development and planning and capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure and are to be awarded on a competitive basis for projects that will have a significant local or regional impact. BUILD funding can support roads, bridges, transit, rail, ports or intermodal transportation.
As more funding for the project is identified, CDOT and partners will be able to further develop plans and designs for the corridor. In March, the US 36 Mayors & Commissioners Coalition will go on their annual advocacy trip to Washington D.C. to learn about possible funding opportunities for the project. They will be able to leverage the $40 million they received from CDOT at the end of 2019.