Merrifield pledges to advocate against ‘ugly and disruptive’ Westside Highway 24 plans

       District 18 State Rep. Michael Merrifield is “not happy with the direction the state is going” on Westside Highway 24 and pledged Jan. 21 to be “an advocate for the neighborhood” on that matter.
       Proposals he's seen from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) for a widening and interchanges between I-25 and Manitou Springs “are ugly and disruptive, and I'm not sure if they're necessary,” he added during a town meeting Jan. 21 at Colorado College's Slocum Hall.
       The two-term Democratic legislator said that once he has a clear idea of what the Westside sentiment is, “I will go to Tom Norton (CDOT executive director) and express my concerns.”
       CDOT and its consultants will hold their sixth in a series of open houses on Westside Highway 24 Thursday, Jan. 26, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the West Intergenera-tional Center, 25 N. 20th St., presenting a variety of design options for each intersection along the 6 ½-mile segment. Forms will be provided for attendees to comment about the plans.
       Merrifield's district includes the older Westside, as well as Manitou Springs and the downtown area. He is the only Democrat in the Statehouse from El Paso County.
       At his town meeting, he also discussed topics that will be considered during this session of the Colorado Legislature. He said he is writing a bill that would require a greater emphasis on arts in the curriculum in public schools. A former Coronado High music teacher, Merrifield said it has been proven that a strong arts focus helps students do well in their core classes.
       Merrifield also spoke about the following:
  • Funds from Referendum C - Merrifield said it would be a mistake to think the state is “swimming in extra cash.” He said last November's passage of the spending referendum gives $114 million extra this year, which he termed “small” in a $7-8 billion budget. He advocates following the intent that was explained to voters - spending the money evenly between the areas of health, education and transportation.
  • Health care - The Democrat proposal is for Colorado to join purchasing pools with other states to “drive down prescription drug prices.”
  • Renewable energy - Democrats and “moderate Republicans” are looking at legislation to encourage investment in this area, Merrifield said, with the idea of making “Colorado the Texas or Alaska of renewable energy.”
  • Illegal immigration - Charged that a bill by Colorado Springs District 14 State Rep. David Schultheis to clamp down on illegal immigration through the schools is “mean-spirited.” Even if it is found that students' families are in America illegally, federal requirements do not let schools refuse to educate them, Merrifield said.
  • Education - He supports a restoration of preschool funding that has been cut over the past five years as part of budget- balancing efforts. Also being worked on is a plan to give incentives to “at-risk” students, letting them take a fifth year to graduate from high school while earning college credits. Other legislation would push public school to hire top-notch principals. No schools are successful without “outstanding principals,” Merrifield said.
       Overall, describing himself as “a fairly liberal Democrat,” Merrifield said that with his party controlling both branches of the Statehouse, “it's exciting to be a Democrat today.”

Westside Pioneer article