Fillmore project moves to final design; gets support for accelerated construction

       About 120 people attended a two-hour open house on the proposed Fillmore Street improvements project Jan. 10 at El Paso County's Citizens Service Center.

While a video of current Fillmore-corridor traffic problems displays on a screen behind him, Donny Allison of URS (a city planning consultant) answers questions from citizens about how the planned Fillmore Street improvements should improve traffic flow.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Not hearing any “show-stoppers,” from attendees, Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) officials plan to move into the final design stage for the $6.7 million project, which will feature a westerly realignment of Chestnut Street, with the goal of improving traffic flow on Fillmore just west of I-25.
       “Over the next few months, the project team will finalize the design details and prepare construction documents,” RTA project manager Lesley Mace said afterward. “A solicitation for a contractor will occur over the summer months, with construction beginning in Fall 2012.”
       She expects construction to take 12 months to complete, but believes that span can be reduced if construction crews are allowed to work at night and not have to worry about keeping all four lanes open on a regular basis.
       People at the open house, given the option of putting stickies on a board asking if they agreed or disagreed with those strategies, overwhelmingly agreed, based on the sticky placements.
       The event included a short video explaining the project's “history and purpose,” another video (animated) showing how traffic flow would work and several tables where people could ask questions of RTA officials or representatives of URS, the consulting firm for the design phase.
       Another board showed the anticipated “benefits of the refined design layout. These are the elimination of the “confusing six-leg intersection” that now includes Chestnut, “more efficient signal operations” (a planned synchronization of the I-25/Fillmore light with a stoplight for the new Chestnut/Fillmore intersection), less delay during rush hour (resulting from that synchronization as well as the three lanes that will be provided each way on Fillmore up to about Sage Street), improved pedestrian accessibility (in part from adding sidewalks on Fillmore and Chestnut) and safety in general.
       A lingering question from the public concerns the steepness of Fillmore Street. Planners insist that it will be safe. The design includes the plan to reduce the upward grade of Fillmore from I-25 to the new Chestnut intersection from the current 9 percent to a less vehicle-challenging 7 percent.
       One person looking forward to the project is John Gatto, whose Crestone Development (doing business as Bella Fortuna, LLC) owns the graded, currently vacant 14-acre property north of Fillmore, through which the realigned Chestnut will pass. The property is zoned and graded for a commercial center, but no development has occurred, in part because of uncertainty felt by potential tenants about the city's plans for Fillmore, Gatto said in an interview at the meeting. Having a definite RTA design plan changes that situation; plus he believes adding the stoplight at the new Chestnut/ Fillmore will make it easier for people to access the center, once it's built.

A graphic that was provided for the Fillmore Street improvements open house illustrates what planners define as a "six-leg" intersection, because it has six road approaches. By removing Chestnut (moving it several hundred feet west), planners believe the Fillmore/I-25 intersection will have fewer traffic delays.
Westside Pioneer photo of graphic displayed by Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority and URS consultants

       Most of the project funding is coming from the RTA's one-cent sales tax. Improvements to Fillmore west of I-25 were part of the “A” list presented to voters in 2004 when the RTA was approved.
       Original plans, based on a late 1990s traffic study, called for a third lane each way all the way west to Centennial Boulevard, but a more recent study has determined the added lanes would not help traffic flow nearly as much as relieving the six-leg chokepoint, said Tim Roberts of Traffic Engineering.
       A state project to upgrade the Fillmore/I-25 interchange itself has been in the works for years, but no funding is available for it in the foreseeable future.

Westside Pioneer article