By Katie Looby

The last time improvements were made to Loveland’s Interstate 25/U.S. Highway 34 Interchange John F. Kennedy was president of the United States.

Jay Hardy, McWHINNEY vice president and Centerra general manager, said Tuesday at a ground breaking ceremony for the $7 million interchange interim improvement project that it has been about 45 years since serious improvements were made to the busy interchange.

Loveland residents, city leaders and engineers gathered Tuesday to celebrate the start of the project that will improve traffic flow and safety at what many people consider the gateway to Loveland.

Centerra development fees will fund the interim improvements.

Construction is expected to begin any day, and the project will be complete by the end of 2010.

Development near the bustling interchange has increased within the past decade with the Promenade Shops, Medical Center of the Rockies and other retail and industrial businesses sprouting up.

Workers will increase safety issues on both I-25 and Highway 34 by eliminating weaving movement and removing the northeast and southwest loop ramps.

Crews also will install southbound and northbound concrete off ramps.

Art Cushing, a Loveland resident and general contractor, said upgrades to the interstate are important for Loveland to be a viable place to live and work.

Cushing moved to Loveland in 1954, when only 5,000 people lived in the town.

“When I moved here, there was no interchange at all,” he said.

While the Promenade Shops are a “lovely” addition to Loveland, they also have increased traffic flow, which has resulted in more accidents, Cushing said.

“McWHINNEY has contributed so much to the city of Loveland, but it has increased the need for road improvements too,” Cushing said, adding that the developer has recognized this and seen that funding is available for the project.

While Loveland resident and local engineer Greg Schmid recognizes the project will improve safety, he’s also sad to see the cloverleaf-design at the interchange go.

“It’s interesting,” he said. “You can drive all four loops and go back the way you came from.”

However, Schmid said the traffic and speed definitely make it a safety hazard.

Drivers that exit and enter the highway from the same lane almost run into one another, he said.

Loveland Public Works director Keith Reester said Loveland will be seen as a model for how transportation projects are funded in the future.

“The chance to make all these improvements with local money is really exciting,” he said. “The safety improvement is going to be dramatic.”

When the interchange was built only about 20,000 people lived in Loveland, now about 70,000 people call the city home and tens of thousands of motorists use the intersection each day, Reester said.

Drivers should be prepared for the construction at the interchange in the coming months.

“Drivers just need to be conscious,” Reester said. “Try to be safe. We’re going to do our best to keep traffic flowing all the time.”