Citizens get chance to sound off on Hwy 24 EA; CDOT accepting written comments until July 11

       Capping eight years of meetings and study by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and a team of consultants, an open house, presentation and public hearing on the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Westside Highway 24 expansion project attracted more than 100 citizens June 11.
       The event at the Community Partnership for Child Development building at 2330 Robinson Street marked the last scheduled public gathering before CDOT submits its “Envision 24 West” EA for federal review.

Dave Hughes (left), a Westside civic leader who has been a regular attendee at the Colorado Department of Transportation's "Envision 24 West" meetings since they started in 2004, talks with "Envision" consultant Kevin Shanks during the open house June 11.
Westside Pioneer photo

       “It's an exciting time,” said Dave Watt, the lead engineer for “Envision,” extolling the proposed project's potential to solve currently worsening traffic jams on a four-mile stretch of highway west of I-25. “This is the concluding part of the study.”
       In a separate interview, he predicted that approval from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) could occur within a few months; however, no construction funding exists yet - neither the estimated $230 million for construction nor $50 million to purchase right of way.
       The EA presentation offered no major divergence from the basic plans that the public has seen over the past four years - a general widening with interchanges at 8th and 21st streets, six-lane at-grade intersections at 26th and 31st and an overpass at Ridge Road.
       The public hearing revealed some citizen questions, requests and/or complaints. Points that were raised included:
  • Noise walls (seeking more information about how the locations to receive such walls were chosen and what abatement options exist). Note: Two of the sites are between about 10th and 14th streets, with the other in front of homes west of Ridge Road.
  • The lack of ramps at Ridge Road, which would prevent direct highway access to or from Red Rock Canyon Open Space. (The plan suggests that access can come just as well from Colorado Avenue, with Ridge Road safer than it is now by going under the highway.)
  • Pedestrian overpasses to better connect the two sides of the highway. (No overpasses would be funded in the project, although the companion “Midland Greenway Plan,” which was handed out at the June 11 event and includes a non-stop Midland Trail along the project's length, shows a potential overpass at 25th Street that could be separately funded).
  • Seventy-seven business relocations, including a loss of much of the existing stores at the 8th and 21st intersections. The concern is that such would hurt Westside commerce (although the EA predicts that all 77 will be able to relocate within 10 miles of where they are now, and that the easier access afforded by an upgraded highway will prove a boon for business).
  • The 21st Street interchange (its need was questioned, in part because of property losses at every corner except the one with the historic, recently renovated Midland Roundhouse. The EA states that it's needed because of anticipated traffic volumes).
  • A potential “greenway,” partially funded by CDOT, that's envisioned along Fountain Creek where Naegele Road is now. One concern is that there's no guarantee the creek will have much flow (because Colorado Springs Utilities can - and does at times - divert most of its water at 33rd Street).
  • The statistical data that led to regional traffic projections (questions were brought up as to whether the CDOT analysis is overestimating future traffic and is thus seeking greater roadway capacity than needed).
           Watt credited citizens for helping drive many of the key decisions that led to the final EA, such as keeping 26th at grade to ease access to Old Colorado City, respecting the Roundhouse building's National Historic Registry status at 21st Street and changing the roadway design for the adjacent Cimarron/I-25 interchange to use one less stoplight.
           Another CDOT handout at the June 11 meeting was a color booklet called “Shifting Gears,” that claims “51 ways the community shaped the solution for US 24 West.”
           “The Westside community was very much engaged in the process,” Watt said at the meeting. “We may not have always agreed, but because of sticking with it we have a lot better project.”
           Should funding become available, the EA states that Eighth Street is the highest priority for that part of the highway corridor, along with the Cimarron/I-25 interchange. The latter is not part of Envision 24 West, although aspects of the project (such as a future flyover) would augment it.
           Two of the speakers, Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) President Welling Clark and former OWN president Jim Fenimore, urged CDOT to build the Eighth Street interchange first and see if that solves the main traffic problems before moving on to any other authorized work in the EA.
           Bill Koerner, former Manitou Springs mayor, who represented the town on a CDOT-organized technical committee during the planning period, lauded “Envision” as a “marvelous result for anybody on the Westside,” although he did urge CDOT to “make it look good.”
           For those who did not go to the meeting, a public comment period is continuing through July 11. The EA can be found at the website: coloradodot.info/projects/us24west. A hard copy is at the Old Colorado City Library.
           The Envision phone is 477-4970. The e-mail is us24winfo@wilsonco.com.
           CORRECTION: Based on initial information from CDOT, a graphics cutline in the June 7 Westside Pioneer incorrectly stated that the KFC at 31st and Colorado would be one of the property acquisitions in the expansion project. CDOT has since clarified that this would not be the case.

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