Highway 24 looms large
Roadway width could double; businesses, homes at risk in CDOT plans
Freeway or expressway.
Fast and wider than now, or slower and wider still.
These are the choices the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and its consulting engineers are offering for Westside Highway 24.
Either way, unknown numbers of houses and businesses would be removed - probably more of them in the expressway scenario, which would nearly double the roughly 90-foot width of the current four-lane expressway, engineers explained in a recent interview with the Westside Pioneer. There would also be impacts on north-south streets that intersect the highway - up to Colorado Avenue and south at least a couple of blocks.
The state's plans, accompanied by large maps, will be on display at a public open house Thursday, Nov. 10, from 5 to 8 p.m. in the West Intergenerational Center, 25 N. 20th St. Citizens can drop in any time. CDOT and its consulting engineers will take comments and questions.
The project area is the 6 ˝-mile corridor between I-25 and the first Manitou Springs exit. Highway 24 is a U.S. highway under state jurisdiction.
As an example of the expressway width, plans for highway traffic at 21st Street show 13 lanes, including three left-turn lanes onto southbound 21st.
Unlike the expressway, which would have only one interchange (at Eighth Street), the freeway option would also have overpass/interchanges at 21st and 31st streets and no-access overpasses at 14th and 26th streets and Ridge Road.
Nancy Stovall, president of the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) merchants group, who had not yet seen the plans, was concerned at being told about 26th Street. “That's our main access to Old Colorado City,” she said. She added that she plans to go to the Nov. 10 open house to get more information.
There is a third alternative, called “no action,” which means that nothing would be done except already planned work - such as a city-planned longer northbound right-turn lane onto Highway 24 from Eighth Street - and any other remedial efforts in the future. A no-action scenario is required by law on any such project, in the event that studies find the impacts outweigh the benefits, according to Kyle Blakely, a CDOT consultant. However, he reported, no one on CDOT's Highway 24 project team is aware of no-action ever happening on a road project in Colorado.
The freeway-or-expressway alternatives are the only possible solutions to meet predicted traffic needs 20 years into the future, according to Mary Jo Vobejda, an engineer with the consulting firm of CH2M Hill, who is serving as project leader for the Westside Highway 24 effort. The study range was up to the year 2030.
Certain aspects could conceivably be mixed between the freeway or expressway versions, but the bottom line, Vobejda said in a recent interview with the Westside Pioneer, is deciding whether the speeds should be fast or slow. The freeway speed would be possible because there would be no stopping west of the interstate; the expressway speed would be governed by timed stoplights. And, it would not be appropriate to build a freeway, then set a lower speed limit, because of the traffic-ticket implications, Vobejda pointed out.
In part of a written CDOT team response to Westside Pioneer questions (full text of which start on Page 5), it is stated that studies show an increase of 2 percent a year along the Highway 24 corridor. “This percent increase 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 team response states, adding that mountain development is also contributing to regional traffic. The current non-local use of Westside Highway 24 is 35 to 45 percent, the project team estimates.
Another factor is funding, the project team noted. In order to qualify for federal money, which would pay for the bulk of the cost, CDOT must show it will be solving traffic-flow issues to a sufficient degree.
This will be the fifth public meeting or open house that CDOT and its consultants have held at the West Center since last November. CDOT's planning effort, which started last year, was implemented at the request of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, which saw a Highway 24 upgrade as a priority, according to Blakely.
Vobejda said public inputs from previous meetings - particularly regarding trails or pedestrian overpasses - are woven into both scenarios. Also included is what CDOT (in a separate written summary) calls a “transit service package.” This would involve a new express bus service, existing buses and a “future historic trolley for the local and tourist markets.”
The two alternatives are also a reflection of conflicting public input. Vobejda noted that the public meetings drew some support for hastening traffic movement through the Westside and some for giving “preference to local traffic with lower speeds,” as the summary puts it.
The road has significance from a regional standpoint, CDOT officials have noted, because it is the main road into the mountains from the Pikes Peak region.
A freeway would be narrower “because the traffic isn't stopping,” Vobejda explained. It would have three lanes each way from 8th to 21st and two lanes west of that intersection.
A lower-speed (expressway) requires more pavement chiefly because of the turn lanes that are required, Vobejda said. The expressway would have four lanes each way from 8th to 21st, dropping to three west of there (by making one of them into a right-turn-only lane).
In either option, there would also be impacts on north-south streets. For example, 26th Street, which is a two-lane road through a largely residential area north and south of Highway 24, would need double-left-turn lanes in each direction in the expressway version, according to plans. This means that another north-south lane would be needed for at least a block on either side to accommodate the turners. In the freeway strategy, 26th Street is perceived as too close to the interchanges at 21st and 31st streets to allow an interchange there - which is why it would just be a no-access, grade-separated crossing, Vobejda said.
Details of the work between the interstate and Eighth Street are waiting to be tied in with the development of the new I-25 interchange, according to the project team. But there is little doubt that it would be wider also, because of the expanded interstate and because traffic counts there are much higher than in any other part of the Westside corridor. The next highest is 8th to 21st, and the numbers gradually drop as traffic moves west.
Many other plan details are also not yet finalized, such as noise abatement - studies would determine where or whether walls are needed - or in which directions the highway will expand. Vobejda agreed that a major construction challenge with either alternative would be at 21st Street, which features a historically registered building - the old Midland Railway terminal, long the home of Van Briggle Pottery. Other issues there are 21st Street's angle into the intersection, the location of Fountain Creek just to the north, the abrupt narrowing of 21st Street not far north of the creek, and where to find space to bring in the three left turn lanes going south on 21st.
Most of the buildings near the present highway are businesses, but there are also two major RV parks as well as homes near the highway along 14th and 26th streets. At risk, mainly because of unmoving features (mainly Fountain Creek, Red Rock Canyon Open Space and Colorado Avenue), would appear to be all the commercial properties at the 8th Street intersection; all the businesses on the north side of Highway 24 between 8th and 26th streets; the new Angler's Covey and Advance Auto stores at 21st street; the Prospector statue at 21st Street; the Checker Auto, Chinese restaurant and Travelodge at 26th Street; and various businesses and residences along the south side of Colorado Avenue, in places where it closely parallels the highway between 31st Street and the Manitou exit.
Another concept that planners are considering, in conjunction with Highway 24, is realigning the present 31st Street north from the highway to 30th Street, Vobejda said. This routing is seen as more efficient, by keeping motorists out of the Pleasant Valley neighborhood on 31st and putting them on a street that continues on to the Garden of the Gods and eventually Garden of the Gods Road. However this would also unavoidably impact an existing RV park and a number of businesses in that area of Colorado Avenue.
Any of the envisioned work on Highway 24 is far from imminent. No construction funding has been authorized, although Vobejda said that the passage of Referendum C, which frees up more tax money for state government, would probably help.
CDOT's previously announced goal is to create a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) by the first part of 2006, with a possible final EA (to be used as a basis for construction) by 2008.
Westside Pioneer article