Survey of Westsiders reveals skepticism about state planning for Hwy 24 project

       A local survey, conducted two years ago, reveals considerable skepticism about the state-proposed expansion of Highway 24 through the Westside.
       The Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) released its analysis this week of 114 responses to project-related survey questions in its Fall 2006 newsletter.
       Among the findings were the following:
  • 83 percent thought the proposed project was too large.
  • 88 percent either disbelieved the project's traffic projections or weren't sure about them.
  • 78 percent either opposed condemnation or were not sure about it.
  • 92 percent did not agree with all project aspects that the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) was proposing.
           Asked to prioritize what aspects they did like, nearly 65 percent of the survey respondents circled pedestrian overpasses. Others that drew support from at least 25 percent of the respondents were overall safety, a Ridge Road stoplight, a park-and-ride, an interchange at Eighth Street and express transit.
           The quarterly newsletter, the Westside Story, was mailed to about 8,500 households within the older Westside. OWN is the city-recognized advocacy group for that area.
           OWN President Welling Clark said the emphasis on safety (as indicated by the top four citizen-favored aspects) is “a constant theme on the Westside.” He also noted a couple of “surprise” extrapolations, that 1 in 4 of the 8 percent who supported “everything the state proposes” do not support condemnations of homes and businesses, and more than 9 in 10 of those who did not support everything by the state were against condemning at all. (A document released last spring at an informal meeting of CDOT and local government officials put the current expectation at 6 residential and 64 commercial properties.)
           Dave Watt, the project lead for CDOT, described the survey results as “good additional input” to the planning process. “There are a lot of similar issues that we've seen over the years and that we've been addressing. We're still trying to strike that balance. We can't make everyone happy.”
           Regarding the low support implied in the results, he said that CDOT will continue “trying to keep our ears open, to listen to input and to show people where it's acted on and if not, why not. We keep trying to be open and up front with the project status. We'll try to move forward so we will have a product that allows future leaders to make good decisions on the project.”
           Although there have been some changes since 2006, the proposal is much the same in scope as when the survey went out, except for the state's deciding on a no- ramp overpass at Ridge Road in its recent revealed “recommended alternative.” The work would also involve interchanges at 8th and 21st streets, broadened intersections at 26th and 31st streets, and a widening for additional lanes throughout.
           The current project status involves CDOT finalizing aesthetic elements (with the help of a consultant-led citizens committee) and engineering details. The CDOT aim is to gain federal approval of a project Environmental Assessment (EA) by the year 2010. This would make the project eligible for federal funding. No such dollars have been designated yet, although regional transportation priorities show the Eighth Street interchange being built by 2016, following a separately funded Cimarron/I-25 interchange makeover in 2013.
           Clark said he thinks “the best path forward would be for CDOT to build the Cimarron/I-25 interchange and then look at what happens to traffic. That interchange is causing most of the backup. With limited resources, we need to address the problem, not the symptoms.”
           On the Ridge Road stoplight, Watt clarified that although the current project plans call for an overpass, a stoplight could be installed at any time - separate from the expansion project - should the traffic reach a danger level as defined by a CDOT “warrant” system.

    Westside Pioneer article