Long-range plan effort gives region a chance to rate transportation priorities

       A year-long project that will essentially rank the long-range transportation needs in a three-county area (including El Paso) is scheduled to start at a meeting Thursday, Sept. 16.
       That meeting will involve the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG)'s regional Transportation Advisory Committee, starting at 1:30 p.m. in the PPACG building at 15 S. Seventh St.
       After that, according to PPACG Transportation Planner Craig Casper, discussions and studies will lead to a new long-range transportation plan by Sept. 14, 2011. “We will be analyzing and going through a whole process, looking at sociological, ecological and economic impacts,” he said.
       Updated every four years, the long-range plan (through the year 2035) differs from the PPACG's recently discussed Transportation Improve-ment Plan (TIP) because it does not require specific funding sources for desired projects. But that doesn't mean money is overlooked. “We have to come up with a list that's within the money we have available,” he said. “That's why it's called a 'fiscally constrained' list.”
       Casper is concerned that it will be considerably more restrained than had been anticipated four years ago when the long-range plan was last updated. A bill that passed the 2009 Colorado Legislature reduces the amount of guaranteed money for new transportation projects in the years ahead, he pointed out, estimating that the resulting loss to this area through 2035, if the situation remains unchanged, could be $1 billion to $1.5 billion.
       Also, it's unknown whether regional voters will want to renew the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA), which otherwise will sunset in 2013. No RTA would mean $600 million to $1 billion less money available for new transportation construction between now and 2035, Casper said. “It makes a big difference.”
       Speaking about the transportation-dollars situation to City Council last May, Wayne Williams, a Monument-area county commissioner and PPACG board member, had quoted the Colorado Department of Transportation as predicting that the region's only affordable major project before 2025 appears to be a replacement Cimarron/ I-25 interchange (current estimated cost: $90 million), and even that construction may not occur sooner than a decade from now.
       The current PPACG long-range plan (the one being updated) showed that interchange going in around 2015.
       Because of the tight financial situation, Casper said this week he believes that some projects from the old plan “will be dropping out.” Which ones these are will ultimately be decided by the PPACG board. Its membership consists of elected officials from county and city governments in the PPACG's three-county region (El Paso, Park and Teller).
       Other major Westside future projects in the present long-range plan are the Cimarron/Eighth Street interchange (part of the state's Highway 24 widening plan), a replacement Fillmore/I-25 interchange and other phases of the widening plan between I-25 and Ridge Road.
       Casper said the most frugal way to approach two projects so close together - Cimarron/Eighth and Cimarron/I-25 - would be to build them at the same time, which could save $10 million to $20 million. However, the total cost could still be around $120 million. Such money is not currently available and even if it was, those projects are in competition (together or separately) with others in the area, such as a widening of I-25 north of Academy Boulevard or the building of different interchanges for roads crossing Powers Boulevard, Casper noted.

Westside Pioneer article