You want it when?
Westside Highway 24 completion not expected for up to 27 years in latest regional project schedule

       A Highway 24 expansion may yet have impacts on the Westside… but apparently not for a lot longer than once anticipated.
       In a draft schedule, released for public review at an open house last week, the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG - the regional planning agency) prioritizes the earliest possible work no sooner than the time frame of 2016 to 2020. This first phase would simultaneously build a bigger interchange at Cimarron/ I- 25 and a new one at the nearby intersection of Highway 24/Eighth Street.
       After that, the next Westside Highway 24 expansion work would not occur until the 2026-2030 time frame, when the segment from 8th to 31st Street would be built. The final leg of the project, 31st to Manitou, would occur between 2031 and 2035, the draft document shows.
       The plan for Highway 24, still under study by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and its consultants, calls for the road to widen to six lanes, with an interchange at 8th and possibly also at 21st Street. Previous forecasts have suggested that work would start in 2013 (assuming funding was available) and finish about 10 years after that.
       According to outgoing PPACG board president Wayne Williams, the document's schedule will be reviewed by the board in March when it votes on a regional Transportation Improve-ment Plan (TIP) up to the year 2035. The TIP is a “guideline” for prioritizing major area road projects, but could later be amended, as past ones have, based on costs and changing needs, Williams elaborated in an interview this week.
       Some public input has already been received through a PPACG outreach last fall, climaxed by a “roundtable” session in which more than 100 citizens at a special meeting set priorities of their own. In general, these coincided with what the board and staff have previously established, according to PPACG transportation planner Craig Casper.
       Sallie Clark, a Westsider and county commissioner, has urged that the Cimarron/I-25 interchange, which previously was the region's second highest priority, be moved up the list. She believes that regardless of the Highway 24 expansion schedule, the interchange is needed as soon as possible for safety and traffic-flow reasons. However, she has so far been unable to convince staff or fellow PPACG board members.
       Although making no accusations, Clark pointed out that a project that's recently leapfrogged past Cimarron in priority - a phased I-25 widening from Academy Boulevard north to Monument - chiefly benefits the northern part of the county. But Williams, whose county commissioner district takes in that area, said it's not a case of him trying to steer transportation projects to his constituents. In fact, he said, the projects he's “fought hardest” for - the Highway 16 widening near Fort Carson (recently funded), the Peterson Field access upgrade off Powers Boulevard (the current top priority) and COSMIX - “were about as far from my district as you can get.”
       As for the priority given to widening I-25 from four to six lanes north of Academy Boulevard, “I'd be happy to have a discussion with anyone who thinks four lanes to Monument are enough,” he said. The COSMIX widening alleviated traffic jams in its sphere of work, but really “just moved the chokepoint [for northbound traffic backups] to Academy.”
       The expected time frame for the Peterson Field project and the first half of the I-25 work, according to the PPACG draft document, is sometime between this year and 2015.
       In 2004, a new Cimarron interchange had been “environmentally cleared,” to use the official terminology for a project that can be built as soon as money becomes available. It was even a candidate for COSMIX (the just- finished $150 million I-25 widening/interchange upgrade project through Colorado Springs). However, as it turned out, there was not enough COSMIX money to include Cimarron. Another lost opportunity for Cimarron occurred in the 2006 election, when it would have been funded by Referendum D, Clark pointed out. But D did not pass.
       Now, as the draft TIP indicates, CDOT's Highway 24 expansion plans call for changes in the Cimarron design to match it up properly with the envisioned interchange at 24 and Eighth. This means Cimarron will have to get environmentally cleared all over again (now foreseen in 2009), presumably at the same time as the Highway 24 expansion.
       This extra design/approval time is one factor in the Cimarron delay, but Williams said the real issue is the high cost predicted for the double-interchange project: $328 million. He doesn't deny its need - “Everybody who goes up the pass or is interested in tourism is interested in it” - but planners don't expect to see such a high concentration of transportation money coming into the region anytime soon, he said.
       In the meantime, he reasoned, the relatively small funding that will come in can be used on the I-25-north widening: a total of $221 million over 8 to 12 years.
       One possibility for the Cimarron interchange, Williams said, would be voter reauthorization of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) 1-cent sales tax, which otherwise will have its 10-year sunset in 2014. RTA money can't be spent on Cimarron now because it was not part of the RTA's A, B or C project list that voters approved in '04.
       Another change in the situation could come from statewide implementation of all or part of the recent “blue ribbon” panel's recommendations to increase transportation funding. These include a higher vehicle registration fee, increased gas tax and even possibly a sales tax, Williams noted.
       A note regarding the Highway 24 cost: In 2005, CDOT and its consultants had estimated the construction price tag at $240 million. The PPACG document attempts to account for increasing construction costs in the years ahead. As a result, PPACG estimates the highway expansion work from Eighth to Manitou will cost $395 million - a number that does not include the $328 million for the double interchange project. (No money has been authorized for Highway 24 construction yet, in any case.)
       For more information on the project priority list, call PPACG at 471-7080 x105.

Westside Pioneer article