Money found to dress up Bijou block west of interchange

       With the funding now in place, an informal committee of civic and government leaders is beginning to focus more sharply on how to beautify the block of Bijou Street west of the new I-25 interchange.
       The good news about money was announced just before an informal meeting on the issue last week. The major portion will come from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), which has agreed to pay $135,000, while the City of Colorado Springs will chip in $37,000 and El Paso County $13,000, according to figures from City Engineering.
       All of the $185,000 total is to be spent between the bridge and Spruce Street, except for $41,000 to enhance landscaping east of it on Bijou, Sierra Madre and Kiowa streets.
       The improvements on the west block - including a landscaped median, a small park, old-style lighting, brick-paver sidewalks and two signs identifying the Westside - will be made part of CDOT's COSMIX project replacement of the I-25/Bijou Street interchange this year.
       “This was a window of opportunity to create a gateway to the downtown and the Westside,” said Sallie Clark, a Westside businesswoman and county commissioner who has ramrodded the effort with the help of representatives from the three government agencies, the Downtown Partnership (DP), affected businesses and the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN).
       “I want to thank everyone for coming up with something that's extra special,” said Les Gruen of the DP at the meeting. “The train had sort of left the station on this one, and we kind of stopped it.”
       Clark added that the upgrades will be a nice reward for businesses between the Bijou bridge and Spruce Street, which are suffering reduced trade because of the interchange work and will provide a pleasant driving and pedestrian experience between the downtown and the Westside. (An attendee at the meeting, offering no objections to the concepts being presented, was Richard Wall, general manager of the block's Clarion Hotel.)
       Dave Poling, the lead CDOT engineer for COSMIX, said that CDOT architectural consultants, working with City Parks, will need until the middle to end of March to draw up plans for review by the informal committee.
       Without the added funds, CDOT had only planned a basic restoration of the west block, including concrete walks, some trees and shrubs, and native grass in the new park. The extra work will help balance the beautification on both sides of the bridge, Clark said.
       She had started noticing a discrepancy last year when state preliminary plans showed a stormwater pond at the corner by the new southbound on-ramp. She thought that might prove unsightly, as well as a waste of valuable space, considering that the county Department of Human Services on Spruce Street - already tight on parking - was losing spaces because of the project.
       The new plan puts a a parking area at that corner instead. Landscaping screens it from view. There also might be a wall there with a sign pointing the way to the Westside (although other places at that intersection are being considered as well). Such a sign would be chiefly intended for vehicles getting off I-25 at the Bijou southbound exit.
       The park, which would not have any structures (except perhaps a wall), is to be developed on the north side of Bijou, between the southbound off-ramp and the Clarion Hotel. Another Westside-identifying sign (planned by OWN) is also slated to go there. For park landscaping, Clark wants more variety than just native grasses that might die off, she said; at the same time, she recommended to CDOT not to over-landscape the park and thus leave hiding/camping places for transients.
       CDOT came up with its share of the “extra” money by borrowing from other projects that don't need the money at this time, Poling explained. Part of what makes the deal attractive to CDOT is that the city agrees to pick up the long-term maintenance on the landscaping, he said.
       Assistant City Manager Greg Nyhoff said the city was able to come up with its share based on an audit of the previous year's expenditures and revenues. “We anticipate that we will have sufficient expenditure savings from 2006 to fund the $37,000 contribution,” he said.
       Clark said the county's share was related to the project decision not to put the retention pond at that corner.
       The total of $185,000 to fund the beautification represents a round-off from the previously announced cost estimate of just under $184,000.

Westside Pioneer/press release