State needs fewer properties than it thought for Highway 24

       The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has reduced by 20 the number of potentially affected properties in the Westside Highway 24 expansion.
       About two years ago, trying to be conservative, CDOT had estimated that as many as 50 businesses and 40 residences would need to be razed to secure right of way for the envisioned 4 1/2-mile widening project between I-25 and Manitou Springs. A document released April 2 at an informal meeting of CDOT and local government officials puts the current expectation at 6 residential and 64 commercial properties.
       The number of actual businesses is not yet known, because the project is still not final and some commercial properties have multiple stores or shops, staff members explained. In fact, none of the names and addresses is public information at this time, according to the CDOT project team - a statement that did not sit well with Colorado Springs City Council member Jerry Heimlicher. He complained that the CDOT policy prevents him from getting a full grasp of the impact or working with impacted property owners.
       Dave Pohling of CDOT agreed with Heimlicher that the situation “puts businesses and homeowners in limbo,” but said that the exact list could not be made available for about a year, when the project's Environmental Assessment process is finished.
       Mary Jo Vobejda, lead consultant on the project, added that despite “three attempts on every property to make contact,” CDOT still has been unable to talk to the owners of 10 percent of the potentially affected properties.
       Heimlicher was reassured on one question - that the Safeway in the Red Rock shopping center is not among the properties slated for removal. He had been appalled by a set of options several months ago that showed all or part of the center being eliminated for flood-control reasons.
       ”The transportation improvements can be built without the Safeway,” CDOT project leader Dave Watt emphasized. However, he added that local governments are free to consider removal options on their own. In addition to flood control, the local incentive would be to extend the “greenway” - a project side-piece that has been proposed to expand open space, trail and recreational opportunities along Foun-tain Creek in conjunction with (but not funded by) the highway project.
       Heimlicher mentioned one impacted business that he is aware of - Perkins Motor Company, 2025 Sheldon Ave. - which wants to stay where it is; Watt offered to meet with him separately on that situation.
       The councilman said he is also working with the Mecca Motel, in the area of Ridge Road and Colorado Avenue, where six properties are to be removed as tie-ins with the highway overpass at Ridge. The Mecca's owners have a longstanding dispute with the city about avenue flooding and right of way issues.
       Another right of way concern was expressed by Bill Koerner of Manitou Springs, which stands to lose its busy Sinclair gas station at Manitou Avenue and Highway 24 because of the state's desire to put in a broader eastbound off-ramp in place of the “buttonhook” that's currently next to the Sinclair site. After hearing Pohling explain that the state pays property owners for their land and to relocate businesses, Koerner asked if cities could be compensated for losing a part of their sales and property tax base. The answer was no.
       CDOT officials explained that they have been able to reduce the original property estimate for right of way as a result of narrowing down the project itself and becoming more exact in terms of right of way needs.
       The estimated right of way cost for the 70 properties is just under $50 million.
       Including that amount, CDOT now estimates the project's total expense at about $272 million. Previous CDOT estimates had put it at $250 million, but that did not include right of way, Vobejda noted.
       However, this amount is in current dollars. Construction is not foreseen to start until 2016, at the earliest, and could finish as late as 2035. Anticipating inflation, the regional Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) uses a formula that nearly doubles construction costs by the 2020s.
       The property questions were part of a broad CDOT presentation April 2 to about 30 local government staff or elected officials in their roles as members of two project advisory committees (the Technical and Executive Leadership teams). The meeting also gave team members a first look at Highway 24 expansion plans using year-2035 traffic forecasts (the year 2030 had previously been used).
       The forecasts, which generally call for increased traffic in the corridor, did not result in major changes from plans that CDOT has presented previously. There would still be full interchanges at 8th and 21st streets and an overpass with locally funded ramps at Ridge Road, with four lanes each way from I-25 to 8th, three lanes from there to Ridge Road and two lanes west from Ridge.
       Other information coming out of the April 2 meeting follows:
  • CDOT members agreed to give County Commissioner Sallie Clark the traffic information that has led them to reject an at-grade 21st Street intersection. She has been dismayed by the size of the proposed interchange - which would wipe out the Naegele Road businesses and the Old Colorado City entry park that includes the Prospector statue.
  • Gold Hill Mesa is partnering with CDOT and Colorado Springs' Stormwater Enterprise to plan improvements along Fountain Creek at the development's northern boundary that could serve as a model for later Greenway work.
  • The actual height of the 21st Street interchange, above 21st Street, would be slightly less than the top of the two-story, Midland Roundhouse located at the southwest corner of the intersection (a historic building which would be untouched by the project).
           The two leadership teams are to meet again with CDOT the first Wednesday of the month at 9 a.m. at the downtown First Presbyterian Church, at least through May. The meetings are not intended as opportunities for citizen input, but neither are they closed to public members who wish to listen in.

    Westside Pioneer article