8th St. project $ slash paves way for I-25 widening to Monument
Six-lane anticipation overshadows worry about increasing local costs on federal/state projects

       As the project list takes shape for the next Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (dubbed PPRTA2), it's having a ripple effect on other major construction plans in the area - including ones on the Westside.
       A big headline this week was the decision by the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) board of directors April 11 to use nearly $8 million in regional funds this year to accelerate the state's long-awaited widening of I-25 to six lanes from Academy Boulevard north to Monument, alleviating daily traffic jams there.

A city asphalt contractor fills a pothole this week in a southbound lane of Limit Street north of Cimarron Street/Highway 24. Background takes in South Eighth Street, including its bridge over Fountain Creek.
Westside Pioneer photo

       But the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) would not have been able to consider that project at all, if it weren't for City Transportation staff freeing up funds for it, in large part by drastically reducing the scope of a planned PPRTA2 project along South Eighth Street.
       The PPACG action also made a moot point of the recent debate about whether it would be appropriate to use PPRTA2 funds in replacing the half-century-old Cimarron/I-25 interchange… because that project will now be taking a back seat to the widening, at least this year, and the public vote on PPRTA2 will be this fall.
       The current PPRTA, including a 10-year project list, is funded by a one-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2004. If voters pass PPRTA2 (for another 10 years, with a new project list), it will take effect in 2015.
       The PPACG vote to support the I-25 widening (and, by inference, to delay Cimarron/I-25) came one month after the board had voted to put the first two phases of the interchange at the top of the regional priority list. City Councilmember Lisa Czelatdko, whose District 3 includes the Westside, raised that point at both the April 9 council meeting and April 11 PPACG meeting. Although joining the unanimous PPACG vote for the I-25 widening, she is concerned about the interchange being superseded indefinitely. “It's just that this area's been neglected for so long, I don't want it to get lost again,” she said at council.
       The board consists of representatives from governments in three counties, including El Paso. Sallie Clark, a Westsider/El Paso County commissioner who chairs the PPACG board, also pledged to continue being a “squeaky wheel” for Cimarron/I-25.
       Based on documentation and discussion at the April 11 PPACG meeting, the board action stemmed from a revelation by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) in the last few weeks that it would be significantly cheaper to widen I-25 to Monument at one time instead of first widening north to Interquest Parkway, as previously planned, and then looking for funding for the rest of it.
       The overall project is estimated at $66 million. Of that, $5 million in local money has already been pledged for the $36 million Academy-to-Interquest. But on the $30 million Interquest-to-Monument, the estimated local share is gauged at nearly $8 million. That would use up nearly all the region's “metro” funds this year; these come annually from the federal government, and this year's total available is about $9 million, according to City Transportation Manager Kathleen Krager.
       Some PPACG board members admitted hesitation about paying an increasingly higher local share for federal/state roadways which in past years needed no such help, but agreed that otherwise it might be years before thousands of area drivers who drive that part of I-25 would get relief.
       Earlier this year, area staff and elected officials had argued about similar local-spending precedents when pondering the use of PPRTA2 funds as a local “match” for state money on Cimarron/I-25. But such talk has died down with the widening action coming into the limelight.
       For the widening, Krager worked with CDOT officials to free up some of their own funds. This involved some city project juggling, which started with South Eighth Street. The work there, as initially scoped for PPRTA2, was to have increased road capacity and improved bike and pedestrian access between Fountain Creek and Lower Gold Camp Road, at a cost of $11 million. But extensive concrete upgrades along that same stretch this spring, funded by the current PPRTA's street maintenance budget, changed the city's thinking. “It would look so bad, after putting in that new concrete, if the city ripped it out two years later,” Krager said.
       The scaled-down amount for South Eighth is $1.5 million. Pending City Council approval of the final PPRTA2 project list sometime before August (members offered no objection April 9), Krager plans to apply the resulting $9.5 million savings from South Eighth to two new bridges at Old Ranch Road and Powers Boulevard on the east side. The bridges were to have been mainly funded with $10 million from CDOT (Powers is now a state highway), but using PPRTA2 instead frees up the state money for I-25.
       Also planned for South Eighth - although not part of PPRTA2 - is an interchange in which Cimarron (Highway 24) would go over Eighth Street. According to the PPACG board vote in March, that project is equal in regional priority to the nearby Cimarron/I-25 interchange's Phases 1 and 2 (Phase 2 being its southbound on-ramp). However, there's another fact making Cimarron/Eighth equal, which is that it is also as yet unfunded.
       Adding to the mix, PPRTA2 includes a new bridge over Fountain Creek on South Eighth. It's on the PPRTA2 “B” list, so (although Krager is optimistic), there is no certainty that money will ever be available for it. Also, the Cimarron/Eighth interchange is only conceptually designed, so she can't predict how a new bridge would tie in with it. With all those factors in mind, “we're better off looking at Eighth after the other projects are more formalized or built,” Krager said.

Westside Pioneer article