CDOT kept ‘shortcut’ on public maps for months after idea had been rejected

       Engineers and consultants with the Colorado Department of Transporta-tion (CDOT) studied a citizen-proposed “shortcut” around the 21st Street/ Highway 24 intersection and found it “simply does not provide enough time or distance savings to move trips away from US 24,” according to a letter this week to the Westside Pioneer from Bob Mora, project manager for the Westside Highway 24 planning process.
       In a follow-up phone interview, Mora said the study took place “in June or July.”
       Despite the negative findings at that time, the shortcut remained on all CDOT project-option maps until mid-December and was displayed as such to hundreds of citizens at numerous gatherings, including the CDOT open house in September, several Working Group meetings, numerous CDOT small-group presentations and a City Council meeting.
       Asked why this was, Mora said that his team wanted to show an intent to have some kind of road connection in that area (through the undeveloped Gold Hill Mesa property west of Highway 24), and “we kept it that way since we didn't have (Gold Hill Mesa developer Bob) Willard's model” for his road. Willard did provide this model at the Dec. 13 Working Group meeting, which was attended by CDOT team members and area elected, business and civic leaders.
       The citizen-proposed road was to be a fairly straight four-lane road between 14th or 15th Street and Broadway Street south of 21st Street. Willard's plan, similar to a concept plan approved by City Council for his 210-acre property in 2004, is far less conducive to a shortcut, with two lanes instead of four, several cross streets and three right-angle turns with traffic circles.
       Mora, who was not at the Dec. 13 meeting, indicated he did not think that CDOT has acted incorrectly. However, State Rep. Michael Merrifield, whose district includes that area, reiterated this week previously stated criticism of the Westside Highway 24 planning effort in general. He added his hope that the state's current CDOT Director, Tom Norton, will be replaced in the near future, allowing the Highway 24 effort to be “re-evaluated.”
       CDOT's revelation about the shortcut was not well-received by local neighborhood groups that have been involved in the planning process. Jim Armstrong of the Skyway Association, noting that the option maps showed the proposed road in the same color code as highway segments that CDOT expects to construct, told a CDOT consultant at the Dec. 13 meeting that he believed citizens had been “misled.” And, in a recent interview, Welling Clark, president of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), termed the state's action on the shortcut a “bait and switch” maneuver that he would like OWN to follow up on.
       The shortcut is a key part of the “Westsiders' Plan,” a lower-impact Highway 24 upgrade that was hammered out by representatives of the Pioneer and OWN and submitted to the state last spring. By taking traffic away from the 21st/24 intersection, the thinking went, it could remain an at-grade intersection and potentially alleviate - or prevent altogether - the state-anticipated removal of homes and businesses in the vicinity. Also, proponents believed that if additional land had to be used for the shortcut, it made more sense to employ land that was not yet built on.
       However, according to Mora's letter, the state study found that a four-lane continuous Broadway extension "attracts less than 1 percent of the US 24 peak hour trips."
       Such a low percentage means that an at-grade intersection at Highway 24 and 21st, even with triple left turns, would only grade out at a level "E," according to a traffic engineering standard in which "F" is the lowest possible and "D" is the city's minimal requirement. In addition, it was explained at the Dec. 13 meeting, such an intersection would take up as much space as a full interchange, thus meaning the same loss of homes and businesses. As a result, CDOT team members expressed an informal preference for an interchange at the meeting (as reported in the Dec. 14 Westside Pioneer).
       No new meetings are currently scheduled on Highway 24, except for a Jan. 18 meeting of the Midland Greenway Advisory Committee, which is discussing beautification aspects of the highway corridor expansion (see article).

Westside Pioneer article