Regional board backs grant request geared to Cimarron/I-25

       Boosted by a $1 million pledge from El Paso County - adding to $5 million offered previously by Colorado Springs - the board of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) approved a motion April 29 that (fingers crossed) could lead to full funding of a new Cimarron/I-25 interchange.
       The $6 million total would “match” $24 million potentially available through the new Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partner-ships (RAMP) grant program under the Colorado De-partment of Transportation (CDOT). Along with $18.5 million sought from another RAMP source, plus $46.5 million already in hand from different transportation funding sources, there would be enough to cover the full $95 million estimated interchange cost, explained PPACG Executive Director Rob MacDonald.
       The PPACG board met in special session to provide direction to staff in time for a May 1 “preapplication” deadline. An answer is expected back by June 1. But even if CDOT nixes either or both of the RAMP requests, under a complicated funding scenario, construction plans could move forward using the $46.5 million to build new southbound on- and off-ramps and part of the interchange, MacDonald said.
       Engineers have determined that such a new “half” of the interchange could function with the older half, he said, until money becomes available for the northbound ramps and the rest of the interchange.
       Also in the request to the state are five other regional transportation projects. One of these is the Fillmore/I-25 interchange, ranked second behind Cim-arron. For the purposes of the application, Fillmore's “total project cost” is shown as $21.3 million, but this includes $7 million spent by the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) for the Chestnut-Fillmore project that's currently under construction just west of the interchange, as well as $3.3 million that's already been budgeted. So the Fillmore RAMP request is for $11 million.
       The PPACG board consists of elected government representatives from three counties, including El Paso.
       The Cimarron interchange is over half a century in age. According to research by PPACG Transportation Director Craig Casper, it has been a regional priority since 1971, but somehow funding has never been found.
       The motion, by County Commissioner Sallie Clark, reiterates Cimarron's priority. After Cimarron and Fillmore are the following:
       3 - Powers Boulevard widening, $7.5 million.
       4 - Old Ranch Road interchange, $600,000.
       5 - Old/New Meridian Road, $400,000.
       6 - US 24 West business route, $2.6 million (to help the RTA fund upgrades to Colorado Avenue west of 31st Street).
       Because of statewide competition for RAMP funds, some discussion at the meeting focused on the best political strategy for applying. One line of thought was to limit the request to Cimarron only (to emphasize that it's the region's main need), while another was to include additional, valid project needs because the total sought is within the area's deserving percentage of funds under a state formula.
       Speaking against the Cimarron-only strategy, Clark commented: “I don't want to go for the whole enchilada and wind up with chips and salsa.”
       City Transportation Manager Kathleen Krager had another take on the political situation, which she shared in comments to the board. Noting that under CDOT Executive Director Don Hunt, funding for the Cimarron project has twice been rejected, she said her “woman's intuition” tells her that state leaders seeking a transportation sales tax hope to gain public support for it by deliberately leaving an unfunded major project in each region that the tax could pay for… and locally that's Cimarron.
       Les Gruen, the region's member of the Colorado Transportation Commission, insisted in reponse that his group will make the final decision, not the executive director. “The decisions aren't as Machiavellian as suggested,” he said.

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