$4.2 million for Cimarron/I-25 right of way

       Given a rare opportunity at a large amount of unassigned money, the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) board decided Dec. 8 it was high time to do something about a Cimarron/I-25 interchange replacement.
       “We've authorized the state to spend up to $4.2 million on right of way acquisition,” said PPACG board member/Westsider Sallie Clark. While that won't start interchange construction, it will get the project “shovel-ready” and send a signal to those holding purse strings at the federal and state level that the project is important to the region, Clark explained.
       That doesn't mean a construction date can be set. But “it's pretty big news,” she said. “At least we're moving forward.”
       Cimarron/I-25 has long been an announced priority for local leaders. A half-century old, the current interchange would have been replaced in the I-25 widening project four years ago if the money had been there.
       The right of way money represents the full amount available from a pool that had accumulated from Regional Transportation Plan project reconciliation savings and additional funds from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), according to a PPACG staff report. In response to a “call for projects,” local governments had prepared a lengthy list of potential, smaller transportation needs.
       However, before the meeting, Clark said she met with Wayne Williams, a fellow county commissioner and PPACG board member. Williams, who has previously argued with Clark about county transportation priorities (appearing to favor projects in the northern county area he represents), surprised Clark by proposing the Cimarron/I-25 funding action as a chance to support a “priority in the region.” The final board vote was unanimous, Clark said.
       The PPACG board contains population-based representation of elected officials from a three-county region including El Paso.
       Making the expenditure even more palatable was a recent plan, announced by Dave Poling, a lead engineer with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), to slice up the interchange construction into four phases. One of the reasons the project has not been funded is that its overall construction cost is estimated at about $95 million - the kind of transportation money that has not been available at one time in recent years, according to PPACG staff. But with the phasing, Phase 1 (a new southbound off-ramp) will “only” cost $17 million, including the $4.2 million right of way expense, Poling's estimate shows.
       Other phases, each of which also needs some right of way acquision, are listed as follows: Phase 2 (I-25 southbound including southbound on-ramp), $30.7 million; Phase 3 (I-25 northbound including northbound off-ramp), $21.8 million; and Phase 4 (northbound on-ramp plus Cimarron east to bridge over railroad), $25.3 million.

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