Highway 24: Driving to Level 2
Public feedback on CDOT ‘possibilities’ to help firm up plans

       So much for the concepts.
       After showing people a broad spectrum of “possible solutions” for Westside Highway 24 at an open house June 21, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) will get more technical in the weeks ahead, according to plans.
       By the time of the next public meeting - in August or September - CDOT and its consultants expect to bring forward congestion-alleviation proposals with data to support them.
       CDOT is calling this a move to “Level 2” in its effort to develop a draft environmental assessment (EA) for highway-related upgrades through the Westside by the first part of 2006.
       “We're whittling away at it,” commented Dave Watt, CDOT's manager for the project.
       He asked that people wanting to see more specifics be patient. One of these was Robert Willard, head of the development group for the large Gold Hill Mesa subdivision, who has held off on planning the project's commercial area near 21st Street and Highway 24 because of the uncertainties related to the highway's future. Among the issues Willard was interested in at the open house was a consultant's suggestion that a frontage road could be built on Gold Hill Mesa property south of the highway between 21st and 14th streets. A less direct road is shown in the current Gold Hill conceptual plan for that area, Willard noted. He and Watt said they would be communicating about these and other issues.
       Watt and other officials stressed that the possibilities displayed at the open house stemmed from ideas voiced by citizens at previous meetings or individual communications with CDOT. As such, the ideas sometimes disagreed - such as the extremes of a no-parking, four-lane Colorado Avenue and a two-lane avenue with diagonal parking. Also, the CDOT presentations were not complete in all aspects. For example, ideas for light rail and high-occupancy vehicle lanes were discussed in concept during the open house at a consultant station called “transit.” However, at the “roadways” station, none of the graphics showed what Westside Highway 24 would look like with such parallel lines/lanes nor how much total right of way would be needed if they were included.
       Citizens at the meeting had varying responses to the presentations. Westside resident Jeff Hitchcock said he's ready for a widening, even though he lives near the highway and might be impacted or displaced as a result. “The reality is that if they're going to build a roadway that's going to work, people are going to be displaced,” he said.
       Another Westsider, Bob Slocum, was irked that the Westside seemingly will have to pay the price for traffic demands caused by growth in Ute Pass and other areas. “Leave the Westside alone,” he said, adding that part of the problem is that “the people up the pass come here to do their shopping.”
       CDOT's stated hope was that citizens visiting the open house would fill out response forms indicating which of the solutions, or combination of solutions, would seem ideal. In addition, consultants at the different stations were to jot down questions or suggestions they heard from citizens.
       One visitor to the open house had a surprise - the discovery that the motel he owns was inside a big yellow circle indicating the site of a “transit station.” Consultant Beth Ordońez assured him that the circle really just indicated a bus stop and she was sorry the graphic was misleading.
       According to Kyle Blakeley, a media consultant for the project, a total of 59 people signed in for the open house. This continued the attendance drop-off at the three gatherings since 115 came to the first Westside Highway 24 public meeting last November. There were 75 at January's meeting and 65 at April's open house.
       A chart at the meeting stated, “The goal of Level 2 analysis is to determine the strengths and weaknesses of a potential solution… The final alternative is NOT one of the potential solutions but a combination of the best elements that balance all of the stakeholders' goals and takes us closest to our vision for the U.S. 24 corridor.”
       Criteria will be measured in terms of the following categories: community values (compatibility with the area the improvements occur in); safety, accessibility and mobility; environmental impacts; and implementation practicalities, the chart indicates. The implementation category includes considerations of how likely a proposed solution is to be funded. So far, cost issues have been disregarded in favor of gathering ideas.
       “At the next meeting, people will get facts and figures and a look at the impacts,” said Mary Jo Vobejda, a consultant with CH2M HILL.
       Some traffic-flow information was provided at the open house. A chart showed that the highest concentration of traffic is between I-25 and Eighth Street, with another drop-off west of 21st Street. Vobejda said a potential way of handling such volume differences could be to put four lanes each way between Eighth and I-25, giving up one of them as a right-turn lane at Eighth; then have three lanes continuing west to an undetermined intersection where another lane might go away to prevent a merging choke-point for the two lanes going up Ute Pass.
       According to CDOT, the study area only encompasses the corridor between I-25 and the Manitou Avenue interchange - although nearby streets (such as Colorado Avenue) could also be upgraded if deemed necessary to enhance highway traffic flow. It is not determined yet whether improvements may also be made to the Manitou interchange.

Westside Pioneer article