City faces uncertain future costs on Hwy 24

       For almost a year and a half, citizens attending public meetings on proposed Westside Highway 24 upgrades have been asked to review Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) maps showing roads and bridges colored in as if they were part of the plan.
       With no caveat otherwise, the implication was that all these would be covered by the project's anticipated (though as yet unappropriated) federal funding. But this is proving not to be the case. As-yet-unspecified thousands of dollars of project costs are likely to wind up being the responsibility of Colorado Springs taxpayers, interviews with state and local officials indicate.
       A major example is one of the interchanges shown on the maps - the one that has been depicted for the past year and a half between 8th and 21st streets. The thinking, as reiterated by Colorado Springs Transportation Planning Manager Craig Blewitt in an interview this week, is that without such an interchange to handle increasing amounts of traffic in coming years from the growing Gold Hill Mesa subdivision just south of Highway 24, “21st Street totally fails.”
       Various options have shown different intersections for this interchange (including 10th, 13th, 14th and 18th streets). CDOT planning team comments at some recent Highway 24 Working Group meetings, as well as a Gold Hill Mesa street map from its developer, Bob Willard, strongly hint that 15th Street is the favored spot. However, the CDOT planners have stopped short of saying federal funds would pay the entire cost of the interchange (wherever it goes). In fact, according to what County Commissioner Sallie Clark heard at the most recent Working Group meeting Dec. 13, such money would not fund it at all.
       The Westside Pioneer's attempts to follow up on this question met with indefinite responses from both Blewitt - who provides city staff input through the project's Technical Leadership Team - and Chuck Gustafson of the planning team. “We're not there yet,” was Blewitt's comment as to how the interchange might be funded, although he added, “We need to stay diligent and be sure all projects can be funded in the future.”
       Gustafson, asked whether Gold Hill Mesa would pay for a portion of the overpass, wrote in an e-mail: “All of the US 24 improvements must first be determined so that an assessment of the benefits versus impacts versus cost can be done. Then those elements to be built by CDOT and those elements to be built by others can be determined. The team at this time is still determining the US 24 improvements and thus can not at this time determine any cost sharing between any agencies or entities within the corridor project. Therefore, we are not able to comment that Gold Hill Mesa will or will not pay for any improvements.”
       A more precise response to the same question came from D. Wendal Attig of Gold Hill Mesa. The development company believes its responsibility (wherever the project calls for highway access from the subdivision) goes no farther than “to align our exit with the highway,” he said.
       According to Clark, Willard told CDOT planners at the Dec. 13 Working Group meeting (including CDOT local civic, business and elected leaders) that his highway-related road-building responsibility ended at his property line.
       The maps have shown light blue (defined in the map legend as “proposed roadway”) for the highway itself, as well as some side roads and side streets. An example of one side road, discussed in a recent Westside Pioneer article, was a citizen-suggested shortcut through Gold Hill Mesa between 15th Street and Broadway Street on South 21st Street. It not only wouldn't have been state-funded, it wasn't even going to be built as shown on the map, the Pioneer has learned.
       The easterly part of the same road (also colored light blue) is shown on the maps continuing from 15th to 8th, going around an existing trailer park and connecting with Garner Street. This road is not expected to be state-funded either. “I don't think it would be an automatic requirement of someone who owns it now (to put in the road), but if someone bought the trailer park, they might be asked to pay for it,” said Kyle Blakely of the planning team.
       Another segment where the city might be asked to share the cost of to-be-determined upgrades is 15th Street between the interchange (if indeed it goes in at 15th) and Colorado Avenue, CDOT project manager Robert Mora said in a recent interview.
       That segment is also shown in proposed-roadway blue on the maps.
       Gustafson sought to clarify the general distinction between what the state typically would and wouldn't pay for. “Improvements required north and south on the cross streets that are required to make US 24 operate effectively would be paid for by the state. This would include, but is not limited to, such items as curb & gutter, traffic controls, drainage, etc. If the city sees other improvements on those roads, beyond those improvements required by operations on US 24, that would benefit the city, the city might ask to include them in the corridor plan and pay for them as part of their share,” he wrote.
       Clark, who has previously criticized the project's proposed size - six elevated lanes across through much of the Westside with sound walls and major interchanges at 8th and 21st streets - said she is concerned about the questions regarding cost responsibilities. “What else is CDOT going to say they can't afford?” she asked. “Pedestrian crossings? Everything they've promised to get neighborhood support, now they are pulling them away.”

Westside Pioneer article