The nearly two-year obstacle course through construction barrels, dirt piles and roaring machinery that was the overhaul of Arapahoe Avenue east of Cherryvale Road comes to an end this week, leaving behind a gleaming roadway with easier turns, bus lanes, and sidewalks and paths where none had existed.

Boulder County Transportation Director George Gerstle said the $18.5 million project, which began in January 2012 and used 30,000 tons of new asphalt, represents a fresh approach to improving mobility without making the automobile the sole focus.

There is now a multi-use path along the north side of the road, making the journey along Arapahoe less of a hair-raising experience for cyclists, he said.

"One of the unique and innovative aspects to this project is that it's truly multi-modal," Gerstle said. "It's really an efficient way to decrease congestion."

Arapahoe, between Cherryvale Road and 75th Street, now boasts a new surface, bike lanes and shoulders, a dedicated bus lane between 63rd and 65th streets, and left-turn and right-turn lanes throughout.

"One of the biggest improvements is a continuous two-way left turn," said Dan Marcucci, Colorado Department of Transportation resident engineer. "Now left turning traffic will be out of the through lanes."

And that, he said, means less stacking up at rush hour and less chance for rear-end collisions on the busy road, which sees an average of more than 20,000 vehicles a day.

'A rat's nest'

On Monday, there were still a number of construction barrels on the road and the westbound bus lane was blocked off with cones, but Marcucci said a final walk-through of the site is scheduled for this week, at which point the CDOT-funded project will be officially over.

He said Arapahoe took as long as it did to reconstruct in large part because of the serpentine underground utility lines that had to be relocated, especially at the top of the hill just east of Westview Drive.

Rocky Mountain Signing workers Michele Shelton, right, and Sande Kalb work to change out a speed limit sign Monday near the intersection of Arapahoe Avenue
Rocky Mountain Signing workers Michele Shelton, right, and Sande Kalb work to change out a speed limit sign Monday near the intersection of Arapahoe Avenue and 65th Street in Boulder. ( JEREMY PAPASSO )

"It was a rat's nest under there," he said.

Contractors also installed a lengthy 72-inch diameter storm sewer pipe at a depth of 18 feet -- no easy feat, according to Marcucci. The train bridge at the east end of the project also was fully rebuilt.

Hugo Brooks, owner of Indochine Home & Garden store at 7123 Arapahoe Road, said the 22-month construction job was a double-edged sword for his business.

On one hand, the slower speeds and frequent stops allowed commuters to notice his store, which he opened in May 2012. On the other hand, thousands of people avoided that part of Arapahoe Avenue altogether while the work was underway.

Brooks said it will take time for motorists to "get unused to" the idea of finding a detour around the construction, but once they find their way back, they will enjoy the ride.

"Things will get even better as people understand that the construction is over," he said. "They should call it Arapahoe Boulevard -- it's really nice now."

Building for the future

Just over the hill at The 4 Wheeler auto repair shop, owner Mike Wilson couldn't disagree more. He said the design of the new road will do nothing to alleviate traffic jams.

CDOT, he said, should have built a four-lane road to ensure the movement of the highest number of cars, instead of dedicating so much right-of-way to buses and bikes.

"They added a bus lane and bike lanes and a bunch of sidewalks that nobody uses," Wilson said. "They spent a lot of money, put some people to work and screwed the hell out of a lot of businesses along here."

Wilson estimates that sales at The 4 Wheeler have dropped up to 30 percent since construction began. He said it took weeks for crews to simply repave the entrance to his business at 6519 Arapahoe Ave..

Gerstle said traffic engineers designed Arapahoe Avenue according to a 20-year time frame and said the project layout is an effective way to improve mobility along the heavily traveled thoroughfare in light of limited budgets.

"When it comes to traffic, they want to build what's necessary to move traffic efficiently," he said. "How do you get the biggest band for the dollar when you don't have much money?"

Contact Camera Staff Writer John Aguilar at 303-473-1389, aguilarj@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/abuvthefold.