Public gets to try on slightly smaller plan for Hwy 24 Jan. 26

       After getting a lukewarm citizen response to their initial construction alternatives (see “Majority of attendees opposed...”, Page 5), state engineers for the Westside Highway 24 upgrade project will present slightly scaled back plans at the next open house Thursday, Jan. 26.
       The meeting will be at the West Intergenera-tional Center, 25 N. 20th St., from 5 to 8 p.m. Maps and plans will be on display - including a variety of options for each intersection - and people can drop in anytime to look at them and ask questions of Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) representatives or consultants.
       The main proposals remain the three alternatives that were unveiled at the Nov. 10 open house - no action, expressway or freeway. The study area is the 6 ½-mile segment of Highway 24 between I-25 and the first Manitou Springs exit.
       The part that would be scaled back is between 8th and 21st streets. The original expressway version showed four lanes each way along that stretch. The new plans reduce that to three.
       According to CDOT Project Manager Dave Watt, the reduction is possible if an interchange is built at 21st Street. The effect would then be a continuous flow between the stoplight at 31st Street and the interstate, he said.
       Incorporating this reduction, the state is now showing very similar plans for the expressway and freeway from the interstate to 21st. Each alternative would also have an interchange at 8th Street and be similarly tied into the separately planned I-25 interchange. The main difference is that the freeway would be designed for greater speeds (55 instead of 45). West of 21st Street, the freeway would drop to two lanes each way, while the expressway alternative would stay at three up to Manitou.
       Watt said the lane-reduction between 8th and 21st was a direct response to feedback from many of the 229 attendees at the Nov. 10 open house and from a follow-up meeting with the project's Executive Leadership Team, consisting of staff and elected officials from affected local governments. “People were saying, 'Boy, that's big,' ” Watt said.
       But it's unknown whether the lane reduction - or the various new design options CDOT has created within the freeway and expressway alternatives - will generate the kind of citizen enthusiasm engineers would like to see. Typical written comments from the Nov. 10 meeting worried about increased noise levels, home and business removals, impact on Westside character and lack of access to the Old Colorado City historic business district. These issues appear to persist in the new options.
       Westsider/County Com-missioner Sallie Clark has led much of the questioning from the Executive Leadership Team. She praised CDOT for reaching out to the public, but charged, “I don't think we know what we're trying to achieve here.” With the highway staying at two lanes going up Ute Pass and into the downtown, it's as if “all you're trying to do is get out of the Westside, whiz past us and never stop. We want them to stop, to go to the Garden of the Gods, Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs. We don't want another Martin Luther King bypass that literally does away with the businesses along that corridor.”
       She's also not pleased with the prospect of high walls on either side of the highway to control noise. That would split the Westside even more than the current highway does, she said.
       Asked why the upgrade is limited to the Westside, with the highway remaining at two lanes each way into the downtown and up Ute Pass, Watt said traffic counts do not show a need for expansion in those areas, whereas projections for the Westside study area show increases averaging nearly 50 percent by the year 2030.
       To what extent a larger Highway 24 would wipe out existing homes and businesses is still speculative, but the main impacts will occur in and around intersections, engineers explained. The main problem, particularly at 8th and 21st streets, is trying to fit interchanges in mostly built-up areas. At 21st Street, the design is complicated because Van Briggle Pottery, inside the historic Midland Railroad roundhouse, cannot be touched. That would seem to force the interchange north (although engineers have other design options that put the highway south of Van Briggle and tear out much of the northeast Midland neighborhood).
       But if the 21st Street interchange goes north (see graphic, Page 1), it would necessarily eliminate the mini-park with the Prospector statue (the statue would be relocated), the new Angler's Covey fly-fishing store and most of the businesses along Naegele Avenue.
       “There are pros and cons to all of these options,” Watt said. “And everything we do has a domino effect on other things.”
       At Eighth Street, engineers reconsidered Highway 24's interchange with I-25 (also known as the Cimarron interchange, based on the highway's street name). Added to the federally approved interchange design would be be what's called a “flyover” ramp for northbound I-25 motorists. This ramp would swing over the interstate and give drivers the choice of coming down at Eighth Street or literally going over it and continuing west on 24. The upside would be lightening the load at Eighth Street; the downside would be contributing to a larger “footprint” for that interchange, knocking out businesses at every corner, as well as a stretch of the Midland Trail (it would be relocated).
       People attending the Jan. 26 meeting will see a plethora of options for every street crossing, including some that don't yet exist. A one-way Tenth Street is a candidate in a possible Eighth Street interchange configuration. Other options show connections through the neighborhoods at 13th, 14th, 15th or 18th streets. These represent different ways of handling Gold Hill Mesa traffic or relieving highway traffic in other ways.
       At 26th Street, none of the freeway versions show access from Highway 24. Old Colorado City merchants had decried that design at the Nov. 10 meeting, but engineers insist that 26th is too close to 21st to allow another full interchange at 26th. Signs would direct motorists to get off at 21st or 31st streets for Old Colorado City, according to the engineers' current thinking.
       One of the new expressway options for 26th Street suggests, instead of a stoplight, an at-grade intersection with right-in, right- outs for each direction; meanwhile, 25th Street (which was a through street before Highway 24 went in 40-odd years ago) would be extended over the highway between Midland and Old Town. The downside there is inviting cut-through traffic from 26th or 21st that would use residential streets to get to the 25th Street overpass.
       For 31st Street, engineers are introducing an option that would move the intersection to 30th Street instead. The “pro” side of this plan is taking the through traffic away from a neighborhood (Pleasant Valley) and a non-direct street and putting it on the street that goes directly to Garden of the Gods and, ultimately, Garden of the Gods Road. The “con” is sending additional traffic through an even older Westside neighborhood and somehow expanding 30th's current two-lane capacity to four.
       Responding to feedback that Ridge Road needs better access, engineers are proposing either an overpass or an intersection with a stoplight. An expanded option would provide a ramp at Ridge Road to make it easier for eastbound drivers to get to the area south of the highway. Red Rock Canyon is there, but the main reason for this option is that part of that south area is inside Manitou Springs city limits and emergency vehicles would be coming from that direction, according to the state engineers.
       The Manitou exit is also proposed for upgrades. Engineers have created a slew of options there, looking at ways to address the short westbound ramp going uphill and the sharp “buttonhook” off-ramp for eastbound drivers. Some existing Manitou businesses in the area of the interchange would face removals, depending on which option is selected.
       Watt and his team are not listing recommendations for one option or another at this point. All he can promise is that all of them will work in terms of improving traffic flow. The idea of presenting them to the public is “to facilitate conversation as to which works best,” he said.
       And if any people think they have a better idea? “We'd welcome it,” Watt said.
       The “no build” alternative includes the existing roadway, plus any projects that have already been approved for funding along the corridor.
       No frontage roads are proposed. According to Mary Jo Vobejda, an engineer with the consulting firm of CH2M Hill, frontage roads are now looked on disfavorably by highway planners as inefficient uses of space, with businesses only able to set up shop on one side of the street, not two.
       A transit service package is included in both build alternatives, with express bus service for the commuter market and existing bus service or a future historic trolley for the local and tourist markets. Also being considered are improvements to Colorado Avenue, including roundabouts to control speeds.
       The goal of the meetings is to refine the scope of the project to the point where a draft Environmental As-sessment (EA) would be complete by the end of this year or early 2007. A final, federally aproved EA would be used by CDOT in obtaining funding and contracting out the work.

Westside Pioneer article