EDITORíS DESK: A citizen strategy for Hwy 24

       Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) engineers worked hard to leave the impression at the Westside Highway 24 public meeting Aug. 24 that they have the situation well in hand and everyone's best bet at this point is to work with them to tweak their expansion plans from good to golden.
       I wish I could say I agreed. I've sat down and talked with them, so I can tell you they are bright individuals with hearts that are not made of stone. And I know they have their numbers and they believe in their numbers and even if, as alleged, they're somewhat skewed (the numbers I mean), it's doubtful they're skewed enough to prevent the project-study team from continuing to say the cure to our future driving ills is a big slab of cement that in places would be more than twice the width of the current highway. That drawing of a future 21st Street/Highway 24 interchange on Page 1 might be someone's idea of transportation beauty, but it's not the Westside most of us know. Can't there be another way?
       To their credit, CDOT and its consultants have extended the project-study period by about a year. Instead of finalizing plans and tidying up chapters for a federal Environmental Assessment (EA) submission - as the original plan called for about now - the project team is still meeting with locals, still listening to new ideas, even taking occasional verbal abuse from frustrated Westsiders (see story, Page 1).
       One of the reasons for the frustration, I think, is the impression that even though new ideas are welcomed, everything gets funneled through the same mindset: This road has to be built, and it has to be big enough to accommodate X amount of traffic. Then why are there no plans to expand the road up Ute Pass as well? How can this stretch, defined now as just 4 Ĺ miles between I-25 and Manitou Springs , be so all-fired important?
       But enough philosophizing. Even if CDOT has allowed more time, that time is fast running out. My proposal, for what it's worth, is to move forward simultaneously along three tracks:
       1 - Seek a public consensus from the Working Group (the "all-star team," as it were, of political, business and civic leaders that's been meeting this summer in pursuit of a less massive project) - a consensus that would emphatically state that these movers and shakers want a smaller project somehow, some way.
       2 - Start a petition drive among Westside residents, asking people to sign in favor of the same goal. Nothing like lists of citizen names to let our leaders know where the grassroots are.
       3 - Refine as much as possible the Westside's alternative plan. Such was originally spelled out by the Pioneer, modified by the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) and recently remodified by its president, Welling Clark. But his latest idea, including slim side-street overpasses at each intersection, has been getting hammered by CDOT engineers and it may indeed have design flaws that should be honestly looked at by those of us who care.
       Will any of this make a difference? I wish I could say. But it beats sitting around and complaining.

- K.J.