Political overtones to transportation $ affecting Westside

       The year 2035 resides in the misty future, so perhaps it's not surprising that area political leaders disagree on how the region's major road systems might look at that time.

This familiar sight, looking east along Cimarron Street/Highway 24 toward the I-25/Cimarron bridge, is not likely to change, under current state funding scenarios, until as far in the future as 2025.
Westside Pioneer photo

       In a presentation to Colorado Springs City Council May 11, County Commissioner Wayne Wil-liams - saying he was speaking in his capacity as chair of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) and partly on behalf of the Colorado Department of Transporta-tion (CDOT) - described a lack of state funding which, if unchanged, would be “catastrophic for our community.”
       The effect on the Westside would be (“optimistically,” as Williams put it) only one major project being built by 2025. That would be a replacement I-25/Cimarron interchange (current estimated cost: $90 million). Other long-discussed projects - such as a replacement Fillmore/I-25 interchange, a Highway 24 / Eighth Street interchange and the Highway 24 expansion project west to Ridge Road - don't make CDOT's current pre-2035 list.
       The future-related disagreement came about after Williams, a Republican, blamed local elected Democrat state-office holders for the funding shortfall that CDOT foresees. He told councilmembers that Senate Bill 228, sponsored in 2009 by District 11 Senator John Morse (and aided by a key House committee vote by District 18 State Rep. Michael Merrifield), “eliminated all the strategic project funding in Colorado, except for a small modification that provides for a tiny little amount coming in.”
       Morse and Merrifield, who were contacted after the meeting, both hotly denied this statement, with Morse characterizing Williams' statement as a “borderline lie.” Morse said the bill requires that a set amount of state revenues go to state transportation needs. Not only is this an improvement from the previous system (started in 1997) in which the chief funding “bucket” for the Colorado Springs area could only be “filled” in years when the economy was strong, Morse said the amount each year (based on a percentage) will be equal to the average amount ($175 million a year) that resulted from the old system.
       However, the wording of SB 228 only requires such funding from 2013 through 2017 (the first of those years dependent on personal income rising at a sufficient rate). Before 2013, no money would be available, even in good years. And after 2017, SB 228 sitpulates only that the Legislature “may appropriate or transfer, in its sole discretion, moneys from the General Fund to the Highway Users Tax Fund, the Capital Construction Fund, or both funds.”
       Morse elaborated that part of the law's intent was to have roads compete with other vital state needs, such as education or helping the poor, and in any case future legislatures could change the law. “To say today, 25 years before 2035, that's we're not going to have money then… give me a break,” the senator said.
       Another uncertainty for the future is how the large, proposed Copper Ridge commercial development, which could encompass the extension of Powers Boulevard (also called State Highway 21) from Woodmen Road to I-25, might affect other area transportation priorities. Regional priorities now list that extension below Cimarron/I-25, while other Powers improvements are ahead of it. Sallie Clark, a county commissioner and Westside resident, takes the view that Powers improvements done now “potentially could move Cimarron up the list.”
       In the meantime, she's on the hunt for other funding sources for that interchange, possibly even at the federal level. “It's a public safety issue,” she said. “It's not exactly a safe interchange. And it's an environmental problem the way it backs up to Eighth Street and the number of cars idling.”
       In 2008, when state money seemed less scarce, PPACG had slated Cimarron/I-25 for construction by 2015. But at the moment, there isn't even money to finish buying the needed right of way for the interchange, Clark said. Williams estimated that its construction now may not occur “for a decade or more.”
       As the regional planning agency with a board of government representatives from a three-county area, the PPACG sets major regional transportation priorities. Also in 2008, the PPACG board had tentatively slated the Highway 24/Eighth Street interchange to start by 2016, the Fillmore/I-25 interchange construction by 2025 and the rest of the Highway 24 expansion work (including an interchange at 21st Street and overpass at Ridge Road) by 2035.

Westside Pioneer article