Lingering questions from public on Fillmore plans

       Expressing frustration at times with government thinking, close to 100 people gathered Aug. 30 in the Coronado High gym for a public meeting showing the latest stage of plans for traffic-flow improvements just west of the Fillmore/I-25 interchange.

Lesley Mace (far right), project manager for the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, answers questions from citizens about Fillmore project maps on display at the public meeting Aug. 30.
Westside Pioneer photo

       They looked at maps and heard comments from Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) officials and the RTA design consultants (URS Corp.) about the proposed new alignment, in which Chestnut would curve west through a new, signalized intersection where Parker Street now hits Fillmore. Parker itself would become a cul de sac. Five homes on its east side would be removed, plus two on Chestnut Street.
       It is unknown what would happen to the part of current Chestnut that would be abandoned. The street intersects Fillmore so close to the interchange now that it's part of what planners call a “six-legged” stoplight cycle that includes the southbound on-ramp and off-ramp.
       A point that RTA and URS representatives reiterated was that in giving Chestnut its own stoplight traffic engineers could synchronize it with the interchange light and thus improve traffic flow.
       The representatives described what was presented at the meeting as a “refinement” of the concept plan that citizens saw at the most recent public meeting last December. That plan also included the Chestnut/ Parker scenario, although the new version needs the extra houses so a realigned Chestnut can be less steep south of Fillmore.

Acting City Engineer Mike Chaves was among the city staffers at the Fillmore meeting.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Also needed for the new right of way is a small piece of land owned by American Furniture Warehouse north of its present store at 2805 N. Chestnut, the meeting revealed. Discussions on all the project-related right of way acquisitions are under way, RTA and URS representatives said, without any announced problems thus far.
       No major changes in the refined plan appear to have been triggered by the meeting. If RTA or URS officials had a ready answer to a citizen question, they provided it; if not, they said they would look into it. An overall reassurance was provided by Dino Bakkar (a consultant with Nolte Associates whose job includes overseeing RTA projects), who said that “if it [the design] doesn't work, we won't build it.”
       The plan is to get the project started in about a year, with a year needed to complete construction, Bakkar said. He added that another public meeting will be scheduled, but he could not say when until the RTA and URS have had time to study the realignment in greater detail, including the current questions from the public.
       A tone of business urgency entered the discussion. A speaker near the end of the meeting was Roland Obering, a consultant for Crestone Development, which owns the vacant, commercially zoned 14 acres north of Fillmore, through which the new Chestnut would pass. Obering said Crestone would like to see to the project happen, but until there is more certainty the developer “can't move forward” with potential tenants.
       The biggest fear expressed by meeting attendees was big trucks failing to gain traction when they start from a dead stop facing uphill on Fillmore at the anticipated new Fillmore/Chestnut stoplight. “We're talking about 18-wheelers going up that hill. You're not hearing that,” one attendee shouted, after three or four people brought up the issue in different ways and were skeptical of the answers.
       The RTA/URS position is that the steepness should be relieved by project earth-moving west of the interchange that would reduce the upward grade to the new Chestnut intersection from the current 9 percent to a less vehicle-challenging 7 percent. Lesley Mace, the RTA's Fillmore project manager, added that when the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) replaces the Fillmore/I-25 interchange someday, the new structure will be higher than the old one, which will reduce the same grade to 5 percent.

A graphic by the URS Corp., Fillmore project consultant, shows a "refined' realignment of Chestnut Street, with the proposed new stoplight at Fillmore, as well as the suggested Parker Street cul de sac. The darker gray indicates the possible scope of work.
Courtesy of URS Corp.

       When will that replacement interchange go in? Don Garcia, a CDOT representative, spoke at the meeting, but had no definite answers other than that the state still has no funding for it. “We're trying to do something in the interim on the east and west side [of the interchange], but we don't know,” he said. “We're looking at different stuff.”
       The admission that some of the Fillmore work will be altered when the interchange finally does come irritated one attendee, but Mace said that although that will happen to some extent, the idea is to “marry the two projects, with minimal throwaway.”
       Other questions that planners said they would look into concerned the use of turn arrows at the new Chestnut/Fillmore intersection; handling left-turners from the new Chestnut into the Waffle House at the corner (the concern is there could be so many at times that they would back traffic onto Fillmore); how traffic mitigation will occur during actual construction, considering how busy a street Fillmore is; and potential conflict with the building of a Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic off Centennial Boulevard and Fillmore (the announced construction schedule shows a possible overlap with the RTA project).
       During the concept process over a year ago, which chiefly involved area residents and business people, several alternatives had come forward, including tunneling Chestnut under Fillmore. This had proven to be the most popular idea at the time; however, Mace reiterated at the Aug. 30 meeting, the cost was envisioned at about double that of the current plan, for which the RTA has a $6.7 million budget. The pre-conceptual RTA notion had been simply to widen Fillmore to six lanes, but with the six-legged-stoplight still at the interchange this would be a waste of money, planners have said.

Westside Pioneer article