Hwy 24: Property ‘suspended animation’ concern
But City Council told Westside project’s funding chances better if a plan is ‘on the shelf’

       Colorado Springs City Council members did not try to reach a consensus of opinion after a Westside Highway 24 presentation at their July 10 informal meeting, but did offer several individual comments to Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) engineers and consultants.
       One of these - that CDOT may be developing a plan that will “sit on the shelf for years,” (as Councilman Scott Hente put it) - led to rebuttals from CDOT project lead Dave Watt and City Transportation Planning Manager Craig Blewitt.
       Although it's true that no construction funding has been appropriated for the project between I-25 and Manitou Springs and none is expected in the foreseeable future, both argued that it's important to have a plan ready to go, in case federal funding becomes available. In a similar situation a few years ago, Denver nabbed transportation funds for the T-Rex project because Colorado Springs was not ready with its I-25 plans, Blewitt noted.
       Aware that the Westside Highway 24 planning effort alone has a pricetag of $7 million, Hente said, “I sure would have liked to have seen us take those dollars and actually done something with them, then built a plan when we thought we had a reasonable chance of implementing it in a reasonable amount of time.”
       Watt said that the federal government has no absolutely decreed “shelf life” for plans such as the one being developed for Highway 24, but that it's possible to “go through some type of process to keep it up to date” every three years or so.
       Councilman Jerry Heimlicher said a key downside to such a strategy is that it puts property owners “into a state of suspended animation. They can't move, they can't sell, they can't do anything.”
       Decrying the possibility of the shelf life extending to 10 to 15 years, Heimlicher said such a situation would have “a major impact on the community around it.”
       Both Hente and Heimlicher represents parts of the Westside, and both their districts include parts of the highway study area.
       Another point, made by Heimlicher at both council and at PPACG board meeting (where he is a voting member as a City Council representative), was that the Highway 24/I-25 interchange needs to be built before any corridor work starts on Highway 24.
       Council members Tom Gallagher and Randy Purvis, both at-large council members who live on the Westside, also spoke to the CDOT effort. Gallagher urged that the state listen closely to Westsiders because they will be the most affected by the kind of major highway expansion that is being proposed. “Residents deserve a voice,” he said. “You don't have to be a trained planner to have a good idea.”
       Mayor Lionel Rivera also urged a strong public-involvement effort. “The more we can involve the public in this process, the better off we are.”
       Watt noted that CDOT has had 122 meetings in all - including those with scores of potentially impacted property owners - and among the more than 1,000 public comments the agency has received have been 360 ideas of different types.
       Purvis asked that CDOT stop holding its public meetings at the West Intergenerational Center (there have been nine so far since fall '04). “It's a nice facility, but it's far too small,” he said. “It's wall-to-wall people.”
       Councilman Darryl Glenn offered the thought that open houses - in which people go from station to station and talk individually with engineers - can be frustrating for residents. This sentiment had also come out of the Citizens Transportation Advisory Board (CTAB) meeting June 27.
       CDOT project lead Dave Watt responded with the announcement that the next public gathering at the West Intergenerational Center will not be all open house. Although Watt told council that many people have been happy with an all-open house format, “we're going to provide some of that theater setting at our next meeting.”
       Chuck Gustafson, a CDOT consulting engineer with Wilson & Company, elaborated after the council meeting that West will be the site for the next public get- together, and that the open house in the West cafeteria followed by a session for everyone in the West auditorium.
       He added that West has been chosen for the meetings mainly because of its proximity to the Highway 24 corridor itself, to ensure that those who live near it will not have to go too far to get to the meetings.
       Councilman Larry Small's concern was that city staff be involved and “quell the concerns” of the public. “Our job is to support CDOT, I believe, in that role,” he said.
       The CDOT presentation to council did not include a point-by-point look at the 20-some different design options the agency and its consultants are considering for different intersections or segments of the study area. However, graphic printouts of the options from the May 10 CDOT public meeting were in the council packet.

Westside Pioneer article