Local governments hope to score from federal stimulus
Not being ‘shovel-ready’ hurts Cimarron/I-25

       Colorado Springs may not have voted for Barack Obama in the presidential election, but its civic leaders are hopeful for a piece of the new administration's promised $800 billion-plus economic stimulus pie.
       Colorado Springs is among cities all over America preparing a list of civic upgrades it would like the federal money to pay for.
       The wish list of projects from city departmental staff and the Utilities enterprise - including a few specific to the Westside - has a total value of more than $1.3 billion, according to the web page for Colorado Springs under the United States Conference of Mayors.
       “We don't know if they'll get approved,” elaborated City Transportation Planner Craig Blewitt, “but they're all genuine needs.”
       A key question is whether the actual legislative proposal, which is expected to surface formally next week after Obama is inaugurated, will prove amenable to the city request. An expected constraint is that stimulus projects must be ready for construction within 180 days (“shovel-ready” is a term that's used) and have no previously allocated federal funding. As Rob Kidder of City Engineering pointed out, the city does not have many large projects fitting that description.
       Already, based on discussion at the regional Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) board meeting Jan. 14, the shovel-ready rule has apparently eliminated one high-priority Westside project from the list. That's the Cimarron Street/I-25 interchange, which has a federal environmental clearance but, with its construction not scheduled for at least four years, lacks the necessary easements to start construction right away.
       Two other Conference of Mayors wish-list projects, the Fillmore Street/I-25 interchange and Centennial Boulevard extension from Fillmore to Fontanero, also are short on easements.
       The federal reason for wanting projects to start quickly with stimulus money is so that people can see “signs up and people working,” said Wayne Williams, a Monument-area county commissioner who is on the PPACG board. In fact, one of the requirements for each proposed project is a list of the number of workers that will be required to do it, so that claims can be made that the stimulus package created that many jobs.
       Williams added the quibble that in fact construction workers on the job represent less of a stimulus than higher-paid engineers and architects planning roadwork, so the 180-day limit is actually self-defeating.
       The city list is in response to the Conference of Mayors' initiative that's taken shape since Obama was elected in November. City Mayor Lionel Rivera directed staff in different departments to come up with needed projects, according to Blewitt.
       An indication of the haste involved is the different costs assigned to the Cimarron/I-25 project. A few months ago, a high-ranking CDOT engineer estimated the construction cost at $75 million. The Region 2 CDOT stimulus estimate is $90 million, while the city stimulus estimate for the same project through the Conference of Mayors is $100 million.
       The Mayors' list also shows cost estimates for the Centennial extension - $3 million (only a fraction of the overall cost, which has been priced by the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) at $11.6 million); and for the Fillmore interchange - $60 million (previously priced by the RTA at $40 million).
       The list includes two other hoped-for Westside improvements:
  • 30th Street shoulder improvements/bike lanes, $3,050,000.
  • Sidewalks for Moreno Street, $145,000.
           Based on the Conference of Mayors package, the Westside could also anticipate some attention in playground renovations at six parks (Jackson Park is among them); fire station energy retrofits (including the Westside's Stations 3, 5 and 9); and in unspecified aspects of Fountain Creek stabilization work, citywide bridge replacements, road rehabilitation/resurfacing and drainage improvements; as well as Utilities water and sewer upgrades, water main replacements and fire hydrant installations.
           However, the latest indication is that the stimulus money may go through the states instead of directly to the cities, Kidder said. In Colorado, that could limit the local projects to those favored by the Highway Commission of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) for Region 2 (which includes this area), he said.
           Using a list of area projects with CDOT involvement, the only ones shovel-ready appear to be the proposed widening of I-25 to six lanes north of Academy Boulevard and the city's Woodmen Road expansion, Williams said at the Jan. 14 meeting.
           Sallie Clark, a PPACG board member and Westside leader, objected that Cimarron/I-25 is badly needed, and without that project the stimulus would mean an overload of capital improvements in the northern (Monument-area) part of El Paso County. Williams denied this was the intent, noting that the biggest projects in recent years (COSMIX and Highway 16) have been in the southern part of the county.
           Regarding overall local project eligibility, the city's hope is that there could be a “parallel process” (CDOT as well as city) that would also give consideration to the Conference of Mayors list, Kidder said.
           City Council member Jerry Heimlicher, whose district includes part of the Westside, urged (in his role as a PPACG board member) that city staff devote resources to getting as many projects as possible shovel-ready in future months so that Colorado Springs will be ready in case there is another stimulus bill in a year or so.

    Westside Pioneer article