30th St.: The saga of an RTA B-list item

       The Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) board, consisting of elected officials from governments in El Paso County, is expected to finalize this month the project list for a 10-year extension of the RTA's 1 percent sales tax that will go before voters in November.
       For Colorado Springs, reaching this milestone was the work of staff engineers, starting months ago to identify citywide transportation needs and to work up a list that would give the city its dollars-worth of needed projects commensurate with having roughly 70 percent of the county's population.

Braving rush-hour traffic, a cyclist pedals north on 30th Street in a photo taken near the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center in 2011.
Westside Pioneer file photo

       Meetings of elected officials to date have mostly focused on such political issues as ballot wording, the relationship between A- and B-list projects and how dollars are shared, not on the intricacies of the projects themselves, which appear on the project list with short, one-line descriptions.
       One of these projects, the scope of which is mainly on the Westside, is a B-list item with the following description: “30th Street Corridor Improvements - $8.25 million.”
       Closer scrutiny reveals that the project's key purpose is to add bike lanes along 30th between Fontanero Street and Centennial Boulevard. This would be achieved in large part by widening the street to create paved shoulders (much of this where 30th passes the Garden of the Gods). Other work - including utility upgrades, intersection improvements and possible landslide mitgation - would add to the cost, but chiefly would be needed as a result of making roadway space for bike lanes.
       A similar project about three years ago was priced at just over $3 million (details later in story). Asked about the cost difference between then and now, City Transportation Manager Kathleen Krager replied in an e-mail July 18:
       “The 30th Street Corridor Project is conceptual in nature and is envisioned to add paved shoulders that could be used for bike lanes, intersection improvements where needed, slope stabilization where needed and drainage/utility improvements. This project does not assume widening of 30th St to 4 lanes. The cost estimate is rough because of the unknowns, but we tried to keep it conservative just in case. If we do not need all $8.25 million it will go back to the pool of PPRTA projects. This is a B list project which would not happen until the A list is complete, and may not be selected out of the B list projects to be completed. If selected, this project will include a public process to determine neighborhood issues and desires.”

30th Street's proximity to the Foothills Trail is viewable between Sinton Trail (upper) and Colorado Avenue (bottom).
Courtesy of City Parks

       When the Westside Pioneer asked for specifics on the slope, utility and intersection issues mentioned by Krager, Kristin Bennett of the City Engineering office responded that “sections along 30th Street are active landslide areas, including the sections where the concrete barriers were installed about 14 years ago (to prevent slope failures, especially during wet weather). Former engineering staff (both now retired) developed some initial concept plans to address these issues but more detailed design and implementation never got off the ground because of a lack of funding. Staff also did identify some challenging utility issues (i.e., utilities to work around and/or relocate if roadway improvements ever proceeded)… As for the in-tersections, operations are currently considered acceptable although staff has identified some possible improvements that could enhance operations, especially given the geometrics of some of the intersections, as well as safety and speed management on 30th Street.”
       Bennett also noted that “cost escalation factors” pushed up the project's potential expense. “Projects on the B list would have more cost escalation because they would be late in the 10-year program if a PPRTA extension is approved and the B list was able to be reached,” she wrote.
       How many bicyclists use this road segment on a regular basis has not been announced by the city - if they've been counted at all - but comments at meetings over the years have anecdotally left the impression that several dozen commuter cyclists may use that route on a regular basis.
       Paralleling 30th Street for most of the distance is the city-maintained Foothills Trail. However, according to Tim Roberts of City Engineering, many cyclists disdain the trail because it's less direct and they have to slow down for hikers. Another trail negative for cyclists is that it is not paved the entire distance (the portion in front of Rock Ledge Ranch is dirt in conjunction with the ranch's historic plan, Bennett explained).
       Making 30th Street bicycle-friendly has long been a priority for the cycling community, as well as for Engineering staff. In 2008, there was a process through the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) that envisioned a $566,000 cost (most of it to be covered by a $471,000 federal grant). The idea was to put in paved shoulders “to accommodate bicycle traffic on this important north-south corridor” between Fontanero and Mesa Road, a PPACG staff write-up stated. The document added that the shoulders “will also improve pedestrian safety” and provide space for “disabled vehicles.”
       In January 2009, the city developed a list of projects that might be funded from the federal “stimulus” package. One of these was 30th from Fontanero to Centennial. The price tag suggested then was just over $3 million.
       Puzzled by this apparent increase in cost scale - considering that Fontanero to Mesa (previously priced at $566,000) is about half the distance of Fontanero to Centennial, the Westside Pioneer asked Bennett for an explanation. She wrote back that improvements in the area from Mesa to Garden of the Gods Road especially would have “more complexity.”
       Asked to elaborate, she said in an e-mail Jan. 20, 2009, that “30th Street is just a long, curvy road with substantial amounts of existing guardrail that would be reset, a lot of linear feet of sub-base in the shoulder area to be properly compacted, and a comparable amount of asphalt to be laid, etc.” Also contributing to the higher costs at that time would be the need for “Davis-Bacon (prevailing) wage rates, which is a requirement of federally funded projects and typically higher. The budget also assumes that we would not be able to couple the work with any other project… to realize some savings.”
       Another mention of a proposed 30th Street project appeared in the PPACG's 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan of January 2011. It listed the project name as “30th St. Bicycle Lanes” with the following description: “construct paved shoulders and install signage and markings to provide continuous on-street bicycling on 30th Street from Fontanero to Garden of the Gods Road.” The estimated cost then was $1.59 million.
       An interim effort to help cyclists on 30th occurred in spring 2011, when City Engineering planned to stamp sharrow markings on both sides of the the road from Colorado Avenue to Centennial Boulevard. The idea was backed by the city's Bikeway Advisory Committee. A Westside Pioneer article April 28, 2011, reported that the committee believed that 30th “meets the sharrow criteria by being a key north-south bicycle commuter route with a speed limit under 35 mph and no room for a traditional bike lane.” Sharrows are intended to remind motorists that cyclists have as much right to traffic lanes as they do. However, when the mayor's office questioned the lack of a neighborhood process regarding sharrows on Westside roads (Colorado Avenue up to 30th Street had also been planned), Engineering set aside the 30th Street stamping and has not brought it back since.

Westside Pioneer article