8th Street interchange with Cimarron/I-25 at top of priorities for regional transportation

       For the first time, the planned Cimarron Street (Highway 24)/Eighth Street interchange has risen to join the region's major transportation priorities.
       In fact, it is part of a Cimarron “trifecta” at the very top of the list, according to a vote taken March 14 by the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) Board of Directors.
       Following the urging of Les Gruen, the region's representative on the State Transportation Commission, the board agreed to these as the first three priorities:
       1 - Phase 1 of a new Cimarron/I-25 interchange - primarily the southbound off-ramp ($15 million).
       2 - Phase 2 of a new Cimarron/I-25 interchange - primarily the southbound on-ramp ($30 million).
       3 - Cimarron at Eighth Street, including a new interchange and widening of the highway to six lanes between Eighth and the interstate ($45 million).
       The PPACG board vote marked the first time in five years it has set priorities on area projects, according to Kathleen Krager of City Transportation. Five other projects, elsewhere in the area, are also on the list, but only as bulleted items - indicating that they are still significant projects, any of which could be put in gear if funding opportunities come forward.
       Despite being honored with numbers, the three Cimarron projects are hardly close to breaking ground. No state, federal or even local money is currently budgeted for their construction (although the state has set aside right-of-way money for the southbound off-ramp). Gruen's point was that establishing a clear regional priority would guide the Colorado Department of Transporta-tion (CDOT) when funds do become available. “We're asking for acknowledgement that Cimarron/I-25 is a critical link for you,” he told the board, but added, “A number of funding solutions are going to have to come together to get this done.”
       He was supported by Sallie Clark, a county commissioner and Westside resident/businesswoman, who has long advocated for Cimarron/I-25 as a key downtown and Westside connection. “It's about dang time we put this on our list as the top priority,” she declared. While admitting that it's in her district, she said that she has dutifully supported other projects in the region when the facts have warranted it, such as the State Highway 16 expansion near Fort Carson.
       Clark has also expressed support for a recent, somewhat controversial suggestion to fund at least part of Cimarron/I-25 through the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA). See story, Page 1.
       The current southbound off-ramp is a long loop that brings all motorists (whether they plan to go west or east) to a stoplight. The new configuration - straight down from the interstate to Cimarron -would allow an unimpeded right-turn onto westbound Cimarron, noted PPACG Transportation Planner Craig Casper.
       A new southbound on-ramp (the number two priority) would further improve traffic flow by being lined up with the off-ramp, he said.
       After that, an interchange would be needed at Cimarron/Eighth Street, because without it the improved flow on Cimarron (resulting from the new southbound on/off-ramp configurations) would be negated by the current at-grade intersection at Eighth, Casper said.
       Clark had proposed that the PPACG board follow up the Eighth Street interchange with Phases 3 and 4 of the I-25 interchange - the northbound off-ramp and on-ramp, respectively. But the approved motion did not include those latter phases.
       The Eighth Street interchange concept is from CDOT's “Envision 24' public planning effort in recent years calling for a widened Highway 24 west of I-25, Clark said.

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