GUEST COLUMN:
Hwy 24 symptom of area growth issue
By Dave Gardner

       I sympathize greatly with Westsiders up in arms about the proposed expansion of Highway 24 from I-25 to Manitou. I join local residents and leaders wanting to protect the unique, attractive character of the Westside - which a huge expressway promises to extinguish.
       Revealing, however, is the focus of some project critics - on a suspicion that traffic projections for 2030 justifying the project scope are inflated. Let's say the projections turn out to be incorrect. What if traffic levels requiring a superslab through the Westside don't occur until 2040, or even 2060? Will a huge expressway destroy Westside character any less in 2060? The implication is it's okay to destroy the character of our community more slowly (or as long as it's not in my lifetime!).
       Our region's love affair with homebuilding and growth guarantees Highway 24 on the Westside will have a future similar to I-70 west out of Denver. It's just a matter of time. We'll have masses of prairie-dwellers from here to Peyton and beyond, fleeing the rat race for weekends in the mountains. More and more commuters will opt to live up the pass and work in the city. And we'll be clamoring for the hundreds of millions of dollars we'll hope will solve those congestion problems and keep the exhaust from choking us all.
       The destruction of our Westside will occur - as long as local citizens and officials lack the foresight to insist we stop paving over every acre of forest, farm, ranch and prairie in El Paso County. Contrary to popular opinion, we can do something about it. We can stop approving development that over-allocates our scarce water resource. We can end public infrastructure subsidies that make new developments so irresistible to profiteers.
       But this can only happen when more citizens speak up more often - and not just against destruction in their own back yards. I applaud citizen involvement in the Highway 24 issue, but projects like the Westside SuperSlab will be inevitable unless more citizens work to elect and support leaders who will adopt prudent policies to truly protect the treasured attributes of our Pikes Peak region.

Dave Gardner is founder and chair of SaveTheSprings, a grassroots organization dedicated to the sustainability of the Pikes Peak region.