No reference to local task force in CDOT’s Hwy 24 displays
Not intended as omission, officials say

       Despite recent meetings with a task force of Westside residents, no mention of an alternative, lower-impact plan for Highway 24 was on display at the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) open house May 10 at the West Intergenerational Center.
       However, project consultant lead Mary Jo Vobejda of CH2M HILL said this was not a deliberate omission, that the information prepared for the open house had been readied before state engineers began meeting with the task force April 20. And, CDOT project manager Dave Watt confirmed that CDOT “will continue to work with the Westside task force on ways to lessen the impact” of the planned $240 million expressway between I-25 and Manitou Springs.
       The meeting, the eighth in a series by CDOT going back to fall 2004, was the first since CDOT announced in mid-April it was recommending an expressway option instead of a freeway that would have been $20 million more expensive. A favorable offshoot of the expressway option, Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) merchants group Executive Director Nancy Stovall found at the May 10 meeting, was that the state is no longer considering a no-access overpass at 26th Street. Such a design had been ardently opposed by the OCCA, fearing it would discourage visitors because they would have a harder time getting to Old Town.
       A possible coming change, according to Vobejda, is the planned expressway moving to a faster speed. Right now, designed for 40 mph with three lanes foreseen each way, it would have a relatively narrow median and no breakdown lanes (theoretically unnecessary because at 40 mph cars could maneuver around an unmoving vehicle in one of the lanes). But designing it to 50 mph, as some have suggested, would mean a wider roadway footprint because of the need for breakdown lanes and wider medians, she said. The estimated width in the current scenario is approximately twice the current size.
       A total of 236 people attended the meeting, according to CDOT officials. Watt expressed pleasure in the turnout, which marks the third meeting in a row to near the 250 mark since CDOT first released its conceptual project designs last November. He added that the next time he expects to go public on the Westside will be this summer, possibly in July.
       The downside - at least for CDOT - is that many people came May 10 out of dissatisfaction with the project's direction. At the November meeting, the majority of attendees had said they preferred the option in which no project would be built at all. That option has since been taken off the table, with CDOT engineers saying it is unrealistic because of the projected traffic numbers through the year 2030.
       One of the displays at the May 10 meeting included the wording: “The community has been consistent from the beginning of the project with the majority of the comments stating the need to do something.” It goes on to say there was a “group of citizens” interested in no build and a split between the expressway and freeway support. But it does not mention the task force, which is championing a smaller-scale “no harm” plan (originally drafted by the Westside Pioneer) that would include a range of improvements without such a wide roadway or the need to remove dozens of Westside homes and businesses, as in the state's conceptual expressway plans.
       Welling Clark, president of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) and task force leader, said afterward he looks forward to more meetings with CDOT. He is especially keen on examining their state's traffic projection formulas. “My hope is that they will keep an open mind and be ready to change their recommendations if our findings turn out to be different from theirs,” he said. Another local meeting on Highway 24 is scheduled May 11, part of the OWN meeting at the West Center starting at 7 p.m., and the next task force sit-down with CDOT is May 23.
       Dave Hughes, a longtime Westside civic leader, believes the state's traffic projections lack a realistic foundation. Gold Hill Mesa, which is expected to generate much of the traffic that would require a 21st Street interchange (in the CDOT plans), is being designed so that residents will do most of their shopping and social activities within the subdivision, Hughes noted. And, higher gas prices in years to come are likely to discourage as much driving. He said of the state's large-size plans at the meeting, “They're still shuffling the deck chairs on the Westside Titanic.”
       Some people expressed frustration with the meeting format - one that CDOT has used for the past several gatherings - in which various informational stations are set up, typically with large maps, explanatory documents and engineers eager to answer questions.
       Vicki Keeney was one who said she found this format confusing and frustrating. Because not everyone gets a chance to hear engineers' responses to other people's questions, not everybody has a chance at the same information. “It's divide and conquer,” said Keeney, whose fate is doubly entwined with the project, as both her home and family business are in its path.
       Watt said he too had heard format complaints and is considering a different plan (to be determined) in the future. Another possibility, prior to the next full meeting, would be “different types of meetings,” possibly just with affected property owners or the Gold Hill Mesa development group, which owns the land south of the highway between about 14th and 21st streets. In any case, he said, “We still have a lot of work to do.”
       Tentative plans call for CDOT to develop a draft Environmental Assessment, necessary for a project for which federal funding would be desired, by the end of this year.

Westside Pioneer article