Blue spruce trees and other notions
CDOT recommends Hwy 24 road plan, begins focus on project aesthetics

       At a Westside Highway 24 meeting two years ago in the West Middle School auditorium, someone from the audience suggested lining the proposed roadway expansion with blue spruce trees. Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) consultant Mary Jo Vobejda responded that it was “a lovely idea” and pledged that it would be looked at along with “many, many more ideas.”
       The time for those ideas is coming soon, according to Kevin Shanks, another project consultant. He is tasked with organizing a series of at least three meetings this fall of an ad hoc citizens group referred to as the “aesthetics committee.”
       People were given a chance to sign up for the committee at the latest CDOT open house Aug. 28 at West Middle School.
       The gathering also displayed CDOT's desired road design for the project and let the more than 80 attendees ask questions of CDOT engineers and consultants. Unlike the numerous options shown at previous meetings and open houses since the planning effort started four years ago, the only option this time was CDOT's “Recomended Alternative.” This proposal, according to a signboard at the open house, “ensure[s] that the solutions meet the project's purpose and need and standards and guidelines of FHWA [Federal Highway Administration], CDOT, county and cities.”
       The Recom-mended Altern-ative, in turn, will be “analyzed by environmental experts on water quality, air quality, noise, wetlands, historic resources, social and economic health, parks and trails, wildlife and lots more” before a Preferred Alternative is formulated, the signboard states.
       This “expert' emphasis does not mean the aesthetics committee will be a waste of citizens' time, according to Shanks, who has also headed up the project's greenway element. “I'll push hard to find aesthetic solutions that aren't just lipstick on a pig,” he said. “It's an opportunity for the community to help in making this project more integrated into the Westside.”
       After the Aug. 28 open house, Kyle Blakely of the project team said that 24 people had signed up for the committee. The meeting date will be announced in advance, and anyone else who wants to participate will be welcome, he added.
       The first meeting date has not been set. Signs at the open house said it would be in September, but Shanks clarified that he does not expect it to be until October.
       As for how the committee will function, “I'm just going to facilitate it, not direct it,” Shanks said.
       The committee's difficulty might be in reaching a consensus. Based on citizen comments that have come in over the four years, the CDOT team has received sometimes-conflicting input on issues such as lighting, “wayfinding (signage), color choices and types of noise control.
       Another issue that has drawn Westside interest has been pedestrian overpasses to connect opposite neighborhoods north and south of what will be a much wider highway. But this will be the first attempt to pin down where those might go.
       As for blue spruces, it can only be guessed if the committee will applaud the idea or be concerned about trees blocking the view.
       At the Aug. 28 meeting, CDOT offered no big surprises with its Recommen-ded Alternative, presenting the basic design concepts that have been laid out at preliminary meetings over the past few months. The road would have eight lanes (plus acceleration/ deceleration lanes) from the interstate to Eighth Street, six lanes from there to 31st Street and four lanes west of that point. There would be interchanges at 8th and 21st streets, with at-grade crossings at 26th and 31st and a no- access overpass at Ridge Road. Optional upgrades (requiring funding from non-project sources) include “safety improvements” at the existing Manitou Avenue interchange, ramps at Ridge Road and a 15th Street overpass.
       The earliest work could begin is 2016, with work west of Eighth Street not anticipated until after 2025.
       An interchange at I-25 and Cimarron Street/ Highway 24 is being planned separately, with construction potentially starting in 2013.

Westside Pioneer article