Greenway moves forward
‘Preferred alternative’ on Hwy 24 element seen in late April; will use open house comments

       An open house on the “greenway” element of the proposed Westside Highway 24 expansion attracted 76 people March 22, according to sign-in sheets.
       The two-hour session, funded by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) as part of its continuing “Envision 24 West” public process, offered illustrated options for three “different philosophical approaches to the greenway,” as an information sheet described it. Attendees were also encouraged to offer written comments as well as to pen in their own ideas - as many did - on large maps that were spread out on tables in a meeting room at the CPCD-Head Start building, 2330 Robinson St.
       These inputs are already being used by CDOT consultants toward developing a “preferred alternative” for the greenway that should be ready by the end of April, according to landscape architect Kevin Shanks of THK Associates.
       The goal of the greenway is to enhance the expansion by creating aesthetic, recreational and educational amenities in conjunction with floodway upgrades along the creek, which the highway parallels between I-25 and Manitou Springs.
       No construction funding for either the greenway or highway work, which CDOT estimates would cost a combined $250 million, exists at present. While highway construction funds would chiefly come from the federal government, CDOT and its consultants are suggesting that local private/public support - leveraging outside grant money - could fund much of the greenway.
       Two of the greenway options - one called “Restoration” and the other “Gateway” - revealed broader footprints in places than previous Envision 24 West project maps. The reason was that these options, for the most part, would be allowed to have natural, spread-out flood plains. As an example, the maps for each showed the greenway absorbing some or all of the current Red Rock shopping center north of the creek, off 31st Street and Colorado Avenue. The Restoration option displayed a park-and-ride in the center at about the spot where the KFC/A&W restaurant opened last year.
       The Creekwalk option would be somewhat narrower by containing the creek in places with retaining walls, its map indicated.
       Exact uses and sites were not generally shown on the maps, but ideas that have been suggested include trails, ponds, playing fields, ampitheaters and historical displays.
       Shanks, a co-leader of the greenway planning effort with Dirk Draper of principal CDOT consultant CH2M HILL, said the preferred alternative will be a mix of all three options. “We're trying to put together what we heard (at the open house) and combine it into one concept,” he said.
       The preferred alternative will be revealed first to the Greenway Committee (an informal group of local government staffers and local “stakeholders”) and then at the next public open house sometime in May, Shanks said.
       According to CDOT consultants, many homes and businesses near Fountain Creek are currently in the flood plain, but currently are “grandfathered” in. With a major highway reconstruction, flood plain mitigation would be required, forcing out structures and creating a greenway opportunity.
       All the greenway options, in league with the highway expansion, show the elimination (through state condemnation powers) of current business centers at 8th and 21st streets and many commercial, industrial and residential uses along the north side of Highway 24 between 8th and 31st Street.
       The maps do show the possibility of new business centers being established outside the highway/greenway footprint. For instance, at the “new” southeast corner of Eighth Street, at the edge of the new interchange that would go there, consultants have drawn a center about the size of the roughly 30-unit Colorado Place center that would be removed. However, one citizen at the meeting objected that it was unrealistic to expect current businesses to survive such a move; plus the presence of an interchange would “choke off the traffic” that supports it.
       Shanks said a desired outcome is to eventually make the corridor area even more economically strong than it is now. He said that one of the inspirations is the “LoDo” (lower downtown) renovation in Denver in the 1990s, which upgraded a less affluent area into a popular, pedestrian-oriented destination. While stressing that he did not mean the Westside is like LoDo was, “this is similar,” he said. “It's all about generating activity and emphasizing quality of life.”
       Another greenway criticism, heard from three attendees at the open house, was the lack of pedestrian crossings over the the highway. The creek is south of the highway from 8th nearly to 21st, where it crosses to the north side and continues that way to Manitou.
       The opportunity the greenway offers - to change the highway/creek corridor from its current industrial-commercial aspect to one of pastoral beauty - has excited many people in the environmental community. Two known leaders, Bill Koerner and Dan Cleveland, served as volunteer “consultants” during the open house and spoke favorably of its benefits.
       Participating from the city have been Parks, Transportation and Planning staff members. Craig Casper, transportation director of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (the regional planning agency) wrote a recent memorandum asserting that “CDOT is committed to the planning of a greenway that integrates the local transportation systems and adds lasting value to the community.”
       Sallie Clark, a county commissioner and long-time Westsider who organized meetings of area leaders last year on the highway plans, attended the open house. She said afterward she likes the idea of a greenway, but is concerned that the effort is at the same time legitimizing the major highway reconstruction that CDOT and its consultants have been advocating - but which has been called oversized by many Westsiders.
       “If people say they favor the greenway, will CDOT come back and say people thought this (the project as a whole) was the best way to go?” Clark asked. “That's not what I'm hearing from the neighborhoods.”
       Clark has an additional concern. In her experience as a government official, she has found that when CDOT needs to save money on projects “it pares down the landscaping money,” she said.
       Overall, she described herself as “enthusiastically skeptical.” about the greenway. “That's only because I know what the funding sources are like right now,” she said. “We need a little reality check.”

Westside Pioneer article