Clark up on Cimarron/I-25, down on 2035 forecast

       Westsider/ County Com-missioner Sallie Clark went one for two on proposals to the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) Feb. 13.
       Also a PPACG board member, she was successful in her appeal that the entity's list of transportation projects up to the year 2035 separate the federally approved Cimarron/I-25 interchange from a proposed new interchange - still in the planning stages - at Eighth Street and Highway 24. The result could mean the “important” I- 25 project getting done sooner, Clark said.
       Clark was less successful in the PPACG vote on the Small Area Forecast (also up to the year 2035), which is used in long-range road planning and in meeting federal air quality standards. Charging that there are problems with the forecast numbers, she said she “cannot support it in its current form.” However, hers was the only “nay” in the board vote to accept the document as it now stands.
       Regarding the Cimarron/ I-25 interchange, the PPACG board was encouraged by a report from Dave Poling of the Colorado Department of Transporta-tion (CDOT) that the project's estimated cost has dropped from the formerly announced $90 million to $75 million. The reason is that work that would have been part of the project - mainly the Colorado Avenue overpass widening - was accomplished in the recently completed COSMIX project.
       Other good news from Poling on Cimarron/I-25 was that the project's existing Environmental Assess-ment (EA) approval would not have to be reconsidered - even though some interchange enhancements have resulted from the Highway 24 study. Those would still need to be scrutinized by federal officials, but not as part of the EA, Poling said. “If $75 million were to drop in our laps tomorrow, we could proceed with a design-build project at Cimarron,” he told the PPACG board.
       The only downside is that, according to PPACG Transportation Director Craig Casper, such an amount of money is not likely to be available at one time, based on current funding trends, until about 2016. This was the year he had assigned it in pairing Cimarron with the Eighth Street interchange in an attempt at construction efficiency, he explained.
       The vote did not change the current priorities of the proposed 2035 Regional Transportation Plan, which is out for public comment until March 5. Those priorities currently show interstate widening work north of Academy Boulevard being funded before Cimarron.
       Concerns that the Small Area Forecast reflects skewed data - including excessive Westside traffic - have been raised by Welling Clark of the Organization of Westside Neighbors. As recently as Feb. 12, he reportedly complained about it to City Council during the citizen comments portion of the formal meeting.
       Casper has previously changed some elements of the forecast as a result of Clark's inputs - and conceded Feb. 13 that Clark recently caught another mistake - but defended the forecast's general accuracy and said that even if drastic errors had been made the results would still be off by less than 10 percent. The data, he elaborated during a point-by-point rebuttal of Clark's allegations, comes from local governments and the state, which is then fed through a program called TELUM that is commonly used in the industry. Some results might look incorrect between now and the year 2035, but analyzing the in-between numbers is like “seeing how sausage is made,” he joked.
       OWN was represented at the meeting by Westside resident Kyle Fisk, also chairman of the PPACG's Citizen Advisory Committee. Clark couldn't attend, Fisk said.
       In approving the forecast, the PPACG board appeared to be swayed by Leni Walker, a Park County commissioner, who said the real question was whether the forecast was accurate for at least its first 5 or 10 years. In any event, the forecast gets updated every four years so that leaves an opportunity to amend it as needed, she said.
       Several board members, including Jerry Heimlicher, a Colorado Springs City Council member whose district includes the Westside, stressed that the next time the forecast is updated, there should be a better process for involving neighborhoods early on to “give it a test of reasonableness,” as he put it.

Westside Pioneer article