Pioneer's top 20 Westside stories of 2017: numbers 1-7Editor's note: The article about story numbers 8-14 can be found at this link and the article about story numbers 15-20 and honorable mention at this link.
In keeping with recent years, scheduled road projects dominated Westside news in 2017, taking up 4 of the first 9 spots in the Westside Pioneer's Stories of the Year.
But it was a highly unscheduled calamity that forced its way to number 1, even edging out completion of the new Cimarron/I-25 interchange.
1. Bancroft Park. Colorado Springs Parks had no plans for Bancroft in 2017 until a mysterious fire - perpetrators never found - badly damaged its bandshell late one night in January. Between an insurance pay-out and City Council allocations, the bandshell was repaired, with upgraded wiring, a security door in front of the stage and handicapped-access ramp in back.
However, a side effect of the work was the bandshell being unusable all summer, which hampered the Taste of OCC, Territory Days and Car Show events.
In April, taking advantage of council's concern, Parks led a one-month public process, resulting in a two-phase “action plan,” approved by the Parks Advisory Board.
Phase 1 was the bandshell. Phase 2 includes a new restroom by Colorado Avenue and a new playground. Also on the list is the removal of the pavilion (because vagrants use it for a hang-out, Parks officials say), which would let the park
Going into a public meeting Jan. 11 (5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Westside Community Center), only the restroom appears likely to be built before summer. In any case, the city has pledged not to work in the park during event season again.
2. Cimarron/I-25. Now named after local Pearl Harbor survivor James “Jim” Downing, the new I-25 bridge over Cimarron Street - along with the interchange as a whole - has been fully open to traffic since October.
Contractor Kraemer North America started building the $113 million interchange replacement in April 2015.
Dave Watt, project manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), said the wider bridge structure, with auxiliary lanes on either side and a Cimarron realignment that eliminated one of the stoplights, has “eased congestion from merging vehicles, and the [pre-project] backups from exit ramps have been reduced.”
The project also included longer ramps, a rerouted Midland Trail, creek improvements west to Eighth Street, completion of the three-laning of I-25 through central Colorado Springs and the new “quadrant” shortcut that takes traffic away from Eighth and Cimarron.
Downing, 104, a 24-year Navy veteran, is the second oldest survivor of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. Since the mid-1950s, the
3. Homeless/transients. Colorado Springs passed an ordinance in 2010 prohibiting public camping. Since then, however, responding to pressure from homeless advocates, the city ceases enforcement when the overnight shelters are full. That has been the case most of this winter, with homeless numbers reportedly on the rise - despite a 10-year city plan to “end homelessness.” The situation is fluid, but in December the Gold Hill Police Division (which includes the Westside) estimated 1,400 people without permanent residences vs. 1,000 shelter beds. (Editor's note: A police official has since amended that number to about 600 beds.)
In addition, the city instituted a new policy this winter, allowing the camps - roughly estimated at 500, with many along Fountain Creek on the Westside - to have “warming fires.” With this policy came pledges that police and fire officials would be monitoring the camps to confirm that applicable safety rules (under “recreational fires” in the International Fire Code) are being followed.
Anticipating citizen concern about fires where laws otherwise prohibit them, a press release from the Fire Department cautioned that “these fires are not always hostile in nature and may not require a 911 response from the CSFD or CSPD.”
4. Westside Avenue Action Plan. After demolishing the north half of the old Colorado Avenue bridge over Fountain Creek in September, contractor Wildcat Construction has moved steadily forward on steps to build a replacement structure.
Expected to open to traffic before summer, the bridge is the featured item in the $30.9 million, multi-government Westside Avenue Action Plan (WAAP) project, which is rebuilding 1½ miles of the avenue west of 31st Street.
The bridge's southern half is being temporarily retained to allow one lane of traffic each way. The location is the avenue's creek crossing at Columbia Road and the
Another WAAP focus, starting this year, is to develop a nonmotorized “plaza” in the short-block segment of Ridge Road between Colorado and Pikes Peak avenues. (See article below.)
A separate project - but which affects detours around WAAP - is one by Colorado Springs Utilities to replace a major water line along El Paso from Manitou Springs and then up Columbia Road. Blocking one or both lanes of traffic at times, that work will last till spring, according to the project timeline. A CSU official has apologized for the project occurring at the same time as WAAP, explaining that the old line, installed in 1934, had failed sooner than expected.
5. Bicycle-race issues. Two large-scale, on-street bicycle races last summer thrilled numerous spectators but caused some problems for Westside traffic, businesses and neighborhoods.
The larger of the two events was Stage 1 of the four-stage Colorado Classic Aug. 10. With 160 team-affiliated riders, several of them internationally known, the race had separate men's and women's events and a total of eight identical 15-mile “laps” through the Colorado Springs downtown and Westside.
As a result, several Westside streets - including lengths of Colorado Avenue, 30th Street, Mesa Road, Uintah Street and all the roads in the Garden of the Gods - were closed throughout the day, hurting businesses and causing traffic jams on the roads that were open.
Although pronouncing the event a success, city officials set up an online survey to hear complaints and suggestions for the next Classic, which is tentatively set for 2019.
Beyond that, Westside advocate Welling Clark has urged the city to let neighborhood representatives join in the race planning next time, to avoid foreseeable conflicts.
The other race was the Mavic Haute Rockies June 30, which numbered 400 riders and used unscheduled streets because of a delay in the start. The course change
6. Centennial Boulevard - two projects.
This major four-lane traffic carrier got major attention in two places in 2017.
- Centennial reconstruction project, Garden of the Gods Road to Fillmore Street - Contractor Kiewit Infrastructure Co. finished this $9 million project in November. Work had started in August 2016.
The previous medians had included landscaped segments. Two of the new medians are landscaped too. They “sit higher than the previous medians to help protect the plants from plowed snow and de-icing chemicals,” explained Ryan Phipps, the project manager for Colorado Springs Engineering. “We planted 38 trees (American Lindens and Japanese Ivory Silk), 130 shrubs (evergreen and deciduous) and about 550 grasses and perennials.”
- Centennial extension (planned from Fillmore to Fontanero Street) - Activity by three contractors started in November on Phase 1 of this $10.45 million project.
Scheduled to last till May, Phase 1's road-building element has been contracted to Dwire Earthmoving. The company is building new roadway to fill a 600-foot gap in what was paved years ago between Fillmore and Van Buren Street. The gap is north of Mesa Valley Road and downhill from the segment that goes past the VA Clinic.
Other Phase 1 work, by the two other contractors, involves the removal of the long-closed/vandalized Sondermann Park restroom, as well as buildings on two properties in the new Centennial right-of-way off Fontanero. The project will
The funding source is the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.
7. “Deannexation,” 100 years late. The Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) sponsored an all-in-fun “revote” of the election a century ago that ended Colorado City as its own town.
This time it went the other way, with 6,914 saying yes to it being annexed into Colorado Springs and 17,946 saying no. The results were announced at the OCCHS' annual Founders Day celebration in mid-August.
No one could say why the “anti-annex” sentiment was so overwhelming, but some historians perceive lingering antipathy, especially after the decline that the Westside fell into before its resurgence in the late 1970s, when civic leader Dave Hughes redubbed its former downtown “Old Colorado City.”
The revote was blatantly unofficial, with people allowed to cast as many ballots as they wanted from April to August. It turned into a $250 fundraiser for the History Center, because every vote cost a penny.
Westside Pioneer article