Future road plans complicate traffic planning for Palmer House project

       By the year 2012, under the current schedule, Fillmore Street will be widened from four to six lanes between I-25 and Centennial Boulevard. By the early 2020s, a new interchange will replace the current one at Fillmore and I-25, with part of the work to include a western realignment of Chestnut Street.
       Meanwhile, John Gatto is ready now to redevelop his property into a major commercial center at the northwest corner of Fillmore and Chestnut. So what should he do about traffic?
       His initial concept plan, submitted to City Planning this spring, indicates that he prefers to deal with the present. The plan shows Fillmore and Chestnut exactly as they are now. A water detention pond, to handle project run-off at the lowest part of the property, would be located about where the state shows a realigned Chestnut.
       “It's a bit of a dilemma,” Gatto said in a recent interview. “We're very interested in working with the city and CDOT [Colorado Department of Transportation], but this is what we know today.”
       City staff's opinion of this strategy, as stated in a March 27 letter to Gatto, has not been favorable. The Traffic Engineering Department not only wants a plan that reflects the Fillmore and Chestnut traffic changes but which takes into account greater-than-previously-anticipated Fillmore traffic stemming from other new developments in the area. “The existing traffic congestion is well below operations standards and has shown to back up traffic onto I-25,” the department's portion of the letter reads. “The additional traffic proposed for this site will increase traffic on the I-25 off-ramps from 10 to 14 percent as well as extend queue lengths on Fillmore by 4 to 11 percent. The existing roadway geometries cannot support the additional densities proposed by this development without significant roadway improvements.”
       What would be helpful is if CDOT could just step in now and purchase the needed Chestnut property now. The state agency even bought five houses south of Fillmore two years ago in preparation for the interchange project, and has specifically identified other needed properties in its federally approved Environ mental Assessment. These include the gas stations at both corners of Fillmore and Chestnut and parts of the Palmer House property.
       Unfortunately for Gatto and city officials, CDOT does not have funds for more purchases; nor can it give the city an “IOU” if the city were to buy the needed land from Gatto now. “The five residential lots weren't that costly, and we were able to buy them as part of COSMIX,” explained Wayne Trujillo, the regional right of way manager for CDOT. “What we hope the developer realizes is that the state is going to need this land and he'll go ahead and design the parking and redevelopment as if that land was already gone.”
       But a solution is not quite as simple as the developer just giving up parts of his property for public pavement. One issue, according to Traffic Engineering, is assigning a cost for the widening based on the increased amount of traffic the development is expected to create. The widening will be accomplished with Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) money and “the RTA was not established to subsidize development-related street improvements,” the city letter states.
       Another point, as Gatto pointed out, is that the future interchange needs to be about six feet higher than the current one. This would change the road levels of Fillmore and Chestnut, but precisely how much has yet to be determined.
       One upside in the situation, according to Gatto, is that he has “good relations” with both the city and CDOT. But he added the belief that working out the issues will still require “the next several months.”
       “It's a tough question,” he said, “how to deal with the future today. If everything were ready today, it would be a whole lot easier.”

Westside Pioneer article