For now, no Hwy 24 work seen west of Ridge Road

       The latest change to Highway 24 expansion plans is more like a contraction.
       The Colorado Depart-ment of Transportation (CDOT), having recently acquiesced to Manitou Springs City Council's request to forego property-gobbling changes to the existing Manitou Avenue interchange, is now looking at a project that goes no farther west than Ridge Road.
       Such a scenario displeases Sallie Clark, the Westside county commissioner who has been a project watchdog since the planning process began four years ago. Also serving as an El Paso County representative on the regional Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) board, she charged at the meeting July 9 that it was like “a piece being pulled out” of the project and was thus contrary to previous CDOT statements that the expansion (starting on its east end at I-25) had to be “all or nothing.”
       Dave Watt, CDOT's lead engineer in the planning effort, did not directly refute Clark's statement, but related that the state agency's chief purpose in the project is to relieve Highway 24 traffic congestion. If tentative state plans - showing no Manitou interchange work and a no-access overpass at Ridge - are eventually finalized, the current four-lane configuration west of Ridge could remain unchanged as well, he indicated.
       Going into a June meeting of the Manitou City Council, the state had proposed replacing the interchange's current “buttonhook” eastbound off-ramp with a broader, theoretically safer one. But Manitou council members opposed this design because it would have eliminated some private properties (including the Sinclair station) and there was no evidence of accident problems with the current configuration. Their argument convinced CDOT, which agreed that leaving the interchange as is would not constitute a “significant change” in congestion control, Watt told the PPACG board. Manitou is reportedly not opposed to simple safety improvements at the interchange, but because these would not relieve congestion, other funding sources would have to be found to pay for them, Watt added.
       One west-of-Ridge point is currently unclear. Under current plans, proposed by Clark and OK'd by CDOT, ramps could to be added at Ridge later on - if other funding sources could be found - thus making it into an interchange. Typically, in such a design, CDOT would require a third highway lane each way between Ridge and the Manitou interchange to accommodate traffic getting off and on the ramps. But no third lanes have been shown on any maps (nor have the ramps themselves been depicted). Watt said in a phone interview after the meeting that he would look into the third-lane issue and if any private property acquisitions would be needed as a result.
       Regarding private property in the project as a whole, Watt said at the PPACG meeting that CDOT has narrowed the potential takings down to 61 commercial and 6 residential properties. (Earlier in the planning process, the estimate total had been as high as 90 properties.) He added that before the next public meeting - tentatively scheduled now in late August or early September - those owners will be contacted, along with those who had once been told their properties might be needed but now are not.
       The exact locations of these takings have not been announced for privacy reasons, but CDOT has let it be known that most of them are around intersections /interchanges. One noticeable taking at 31st Street, as shown on a CDOT map, would be for a transit park-and-ride. Clark asked for more information on how extensive that would be.
       In addition to Ridge Road and the Manitou interchange, CDOT shows two other optional project elements that the agency believes would not relieve congestion enough to merit federal funding but which it would authorize if entities could find the money elsewhere. One such element would be an extension of Broadway Street as a kind of frontage road south of the highway between 21st and 8th streets; the other would be an overpass at 15th Street that would provide a low-key connection between the two sides of the highway. Clark said the 15th Street neighborhood opposes the latter plan.
       The upcoming public meeting, at which CDOT will present its “recommended alternative” for the expansion, will be the next step in the state's effort to finalize an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the project.

Westside Pioneer article