Westside Highway 24 project team responds to questions on size, scope

       After getting a preview of what will be presented at the public open house Thursday, Nov. 10, the Westside Pioneer submitted five written questions to the CDOT team planning the project, regarding the size and scope of the construction alternatives presented for Highway 24. The following is the text of those questions and answers.
       1. The projected size of both the freeway and expressway alternatives appears to indicate that anticipated traffic will increase dramatically on this segment of Highway 24 in the next 20 years. Can you specify where this new traffic will come from (other than Gold Hill Mesa, which is the only undeveloped area of any size on the Westside)?
       In accordance with the PPACG Long-range Transportation Plan, the traffic is forecasted to increase at 2 percent per annum on average along the corridor. This is a result of typical yearly growth in surrounding areas and in trips entering the corridor from points west and east, and significant additional traffic growth from the Gold Hill Mesa development. The segment from 8th Street to 21st Street shows an increase of over 16,000 trips per day. Some of these trips are the result of general growth in surrounding areas, and a significant portion of them are generated by the Gold Hill Mesa development. While the segment from Manitou Avenue to 31st Street shows an increase from 11,000 to 16,000 trips per day, these trips result from growth in local Manitou Springs' trips and in mountain development.
       2. What are the traffic counts now for Westside Highway 24 (broken down by I-25 to 8th, 8th to 21st, etc.)? What do you expect these to be in 20 years? And do you know where this traffic is coming from now (local traffic percentages vs. traffic passing through)?
       The following lists highway segments, traffic counts (both directions) from this year, and predicted counts for the year 2030:
  • I-25 to 8th Street, 50,300, 87,000
  • 8th Street to 21st Street, 38,500, 54,700
  • 21st Street to 26th Street, 31,900, 45,000
  • 26th Street to 31st Street, 31,500, 43,100
  • 31st Street to Ridge Road, 29,600, 46,100
  • Ridge Road to Manitou Ave., 29,600, 44,100
       Analysis of current data shows that 35% to 45% of trips on US 24 are trips that begin and end outside the corridor. This number will be refined with further analysis of individual trip origins and destinations.
       3. Considering that many comments you received asked the state to respect the character of the Westside in any Highway 24 upgrade, in what way do these alternatives - which imply the need for removals of numerous buildings (as well as the symbolic Prospector statue at 21st Street) respond to those comments?
       The following Critical Issues were developed from the several hundred comments received from the public and agency stakeholders. The expressway and freeway alternatives address these critical issues in the following ways:
       Needs of the multiple users who have multiple objectives: Both of the build alternatives improve the pedestrian and bicycle trails, providing a completed east/west trail system with several improved north/south connections. Further, transit is enhanced in both alternatives with an express bus on US 24 and local service on Colorado Avenue. The local service on Colorado Avenue could be a bus or someday the history trolley could serve this function. A multi-modal station has been included in both build alternatives at 31st Street to serve all types of users; commuters, local trips and recreational uses.
       Corridor aesthetics: Both build alternatives will have opportunities for improved aesthetics. The construction will provide an opportunity to clean up areas that now collect trash as well as overgrown landscaping. Improved landscaping may be possible with the build alternatives. Noise walls and bridges also offer the opportunity to enhance the views along the corridor. These features also offer the opportunities to design aesthetic treatments that reflect the destinations along US 24, such as Old Colorado Avenue and parks.
       Corridor's context and setting including the adjacent neighborhoods and surrounding businesses: The context of US 24 is that of a road providing access to local restaurants, shops, tourist attractions, parks and neighborhoods, as well as a gateway to more tourist and mountain destinations. Further, US 24 operates to provide neighbors with a route to and from school and the local dry cleaners, while serving as the commuter from housing in mountain communities. The setting of US 24 is that of an urban arterial moving west to a more open and mountainous corridor. The build alternatives address the context and setting in 2 ways. First both build alternatives provide improved mobility to all users, local trips, commuters and non-motorized users. Secondly, both build alternatives will have the opportunity to improve gateways to local attractions with improved signing, gateway features, and landscaping. Features like the Prospector statue, which may need to be relocated, can be placed along currently out-of-context in the corridor.
       Economic viability: Both build alternatives will improve traffic operations on US 24. This will improve the ability of users to access businesses along the corridor. Improved signing will also enhance business access along the corridor.
       Surrounding natural and human environment: The natural and human environments are being studied as a part of the Environmental Assessment for US 24. These resources, such as wetlands, historic properties, and business impacts, will be studied. The impacts will be reviewed to determine if other options are available to avoid or minimize impacts. Further, required and acceptable mitigation for any impacts that do result will become a part of the corridor improvements.
       Safety, accessibility, and mobility: Both build alternatives provide improved mobility to all users, local trips, commuters and non- motorized users with improved facilities; more lanes, safer intersections, improved access and better crossings.
       US 24 is a destination and a connector to gateways with other destinations: Both build alternatives will also have the opportunity to improve gateways to local attractions with improved signing, gateway features, and landscaping. Features like the Prospector statue, which may need to be relocated, can be placed along the corridor and highlighted as a gateway feature.
       Coordinated implementation: The entire process, including the development of the build alternatives has been completed with the coordination of Colorado Springs, El Paso County, and Manitou Springs. Stakeholders of all interests, from users to neighbors, have been a part of this planning.
       Effective and fundable solutions: Both build alternatives provide acceptable levels of service in the 20-year planning horizon and will therefore be fundable using federal dollars. These dollars would become available when environmental clearance is completed.
       4. Why is there no less impactful alternative - something between the “no action” and the freeway/expressway options, one that might focus exclusively on what appear to be the main traffic issues: westbound congestion between 21st and 8th streets and the addition of the Gold Hill Mesa traffic?
       The US 24 corridor has embarked on an environmental clearance process that will allow the use of federal funds for improvements. This process requires the traffic forecasts used in the analysis represent a 20 year planning horizon. These traffic forecasts must be generated from the Municipal Planning Organization's (MPO) traffic model (In Colorado Springs that is the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments) and must be approved by the MPO. Both of these steps have been completed to generate the traffic forecasts used on the US 24 analyses. Therefore, no lower traffic forecast can be used and still give CDOT the ability to fund improvements with federal dollars.
       Further, the environmental clearance process requests that within reason, the alternatives provide for “acceptable” traffic operations. In Colorado Springs and for CDOT, 'acceptable' operations are level-of-service (LOS) D or better. The Freeway Alternative achieves this, while the Expressway Alternative has a lower than LOS D at 21st Street, this variance represents the designers attempt at a reasonable alternative.
       To further explain why no less impactful alternative exists consider the following. The current size of US 24 is not adequate to handle the existing volumes. Analysis of the existing traffic volumes shows that between I-25 and 21st Street, 6 through lanes are needed to operate at LOS D today. Further, to achieve LOS D operations with today's traffic would require double left turn lanes for the westbound traffic at 21st Street and for both the southbound and eastbound traffic at 31st Street. When considered from the point of what is needed today to achieve the federal funding goals, the proposed alternatives with eight through lanes and six through lanes are not that much greater than today's needs.
       5. If the state already knew before the public-meeting process that one or more lanes would need to be added (no matter what) as well as the basic scope for either a freeway or expressway (e.g., the width of roadway required), why was this information not presented at the outset, so that citizens could base their input on likely outcomes rather than pie in the sky?
       The state embarked on an issue-driven process in a manner that put the public input as a priority element. This input has guided the process from the Critical Issues to the creation of the Vision for US 24, and to the development of the criteria for analysis of the ideas, potential solutions and now the alternatives.
       The alternatives now proposed are in response to the input from stakeholders; the following are some comments recorded and published after the 1st public open house:
       Provides access to tourism, gaming and recreational
       Expressway or major thoroughfare for Colorado Springs
       Access to local businesses
       Neighborhood access
       Resolve - city street or highway - What is US 24?
       Prioritize and accomplish the function of the road
       We don't believe the public's comments were based on pie in the sky. They were based on their view of the corridor's usage, critical issues and their ideas for solving those issues. The number of lanes is simply a function of projected traffic volumes and the type of alternative (freeway or expressway) being looked at. As noted earlier, every effort has been made to ensure that these alternatives accomplish what we heard from the public.
       On several occasions, when addressing the comment “You already know what you are going to do,” the project team answered “It is reasonable to assume that roadway improvements will be needed. Your input will greatly influence how that is accomplished.”

Westside Pioneer article