Scope grows for Hwy 24/ greenway study

       A Westside Highway 24 greenway public open house, which was to have recommended a “preferred alternative” this month, has been put off at least until late June.
       This will allow time for representatives from several different government entities to start planning an “integrated solution” to tie the road and beautification projects with nearby Colorado/Manitou Avenue (including the so-called “No Man's Land” area) west of 31st Street, according to interviews with three of the planning leaders.
       The expanded scope could also address the future of the Red Rock shopping center, which has been shown as partially or completely eliminated in different greenway scenarios, depending on flood plain strategies.
       “I think incorporating them together absolutely makes sense,” said Sallie Clark, a Westsider and county commissioner who has been a regular participant in the highway planning process. “You can't have one without the other.” However, she reiterated concerns about whether the project as currently envisioned is bigger than necessary, too hard on businesses and less fundable than a smaller version that might simply add a lane of traffic in each direction.
       “This looks very nice, but what about the property owners?” she asked. “What about the sales taxes we'll lose? Will the businesses move or just go out of business.”
       The greenway planning effort is an outgrowth of the Westside Highway 24 Environmental Assessment (EA) planning project by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) that started in 2004. The idea is to widen the 4 ½ miles between I-25 and the Manitou Springs interchange. The EA process has an $8.5 million budget, but so far no money has been authorized for land acquisition or for construction.
       The greenway element would beautify the 4 ½ miles - particularly along Fountain Creek, which parallels the highway as far west as Ridge Road. Two public greenway meetings have been held (in January and March), but since March there have been “technical” meetings - unadvertised to the public and chiefly involving government representatives - in which the planning process has evolved to its current point.
       Kevin Shanks, a CDOT consultant who has been leading the greenway effort, welcomed the broadened planning scope, despite the public meeting delay and the extra work involved. Issues that could be discussed are the traffic and business impacts that an expanded highway would have on Colorado Avenue, design issues regarding the nearest highway intersections, and how the greenway might be extended west of Ridge Road.
       In any case, “It's better to get all the people at the table with all the different agendas,” he said. Also, he noted, that if a “vision” can be developed showing how the highway and avenue impacts are intertwined, “it's a lot more likely that money will flow to the project. So it makes political sense.”
       Two key entities that would be involved are the Manitou Springs Urban Renewal Authority (which is looking at improvements along Manitou Avenue between the eastern city limits and the Manitou highway interchange) and the avenue task force (an informal Colorado Springs-county group which recently began studying the avenue segment between Manitou's eastern limits and about 33rd Street).
       Shanks hopes that at least three such joint meetings can be held before the next public greenway meeting - tentatively scheduled for June 26 - at which a “preferred alternative” is to be presented. For that meeting, “hopefully we can have some vision that covers all these issues,” he said.
       Bill Koerner, former Manitou mayor and currently the town's representative on the technical team for the highway/greenway, is credited with inventing the “integrated solution” slogan. He said that includes being careful not to wipe out businesses unnecessarily. For example, he said, many Manitou residents shop at the Red Rock center.
       “All the people have been trying to do the same thing, to get answers for CDOT,” Koerner said. “So it sort of became, 'Why aren't we talking to each other?' This is an opportunity for us to come up with a common solution that goes beyond jurisdictional solutions that can hang things up. We can just look at what's best for this corridor.”

Westside Pioneer article