Questions persist on Hwy 24 ‘preferred alternative’

       Since August, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) project team has been showing various entities its preferred alternative for a future Westside Highway 24 expansion. During a presentation to the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) Oct. 28, several questions arose.
       Welling Clark, president of the neighborhood advocacy group, objected to CDOT's 21st Street interchange proposal. He said that even in the year 2035 statistics do not indicate enough traffic to justify such a freeway-style upgrade. He contended that a simple at-grade widening to six lanes (from the current four) should be sufficient.
       Clark's based his position on his previous statistical analysis of the year 2035 Small Area Forecast by the regional planning agency, the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG), saying it predicted far more people living and working in the Westside area than could reasonably be expected.
       In any case, what CDOT should do first, Clark urged, is to replace the old Cimarron/I-25 interchange - a high priority among local officials but not part of the Westside Highway 24 project scope - “then reassess” traffic congestion to see, what if anything, still needs to be done.
       CDOT' representatives at the meeting did not argue back, but neither did they show any inclination to change their preferred alternative, which defines an expansion from four to six lanes between I-25 and Ridge Road - with interchanges at 8th and 21st streets, a no-access overpass at Ridge and at-grade widenings at 26th and 31st Streets.
       After the current round of public inputs, the alternative will be finalized by a public hearing late this year, after which a “decision document” will be produced for federal approval in early 2011, said CDOT's Dave Watt, who has been the lead engineer since the project's planning process started in 2004.
       Another citizen critique at the meeting concerned the preferred alternative's lack of pedestrian overpasses. Specifically, a Midland-area petition in 2004 had asked for one at 25th Street to allow a safer crossing between that area and Old Colorado City (rather than at a wider 26th Street intersection than exists today). Watt had been quoted in the Westside Pioneer in 2008 that project mitigation requirements might justify such an overpass, but at the Oct. 28 OWN meeting he said that, overall, pedestrian crossings are now seen only as add-on options that local governments could bankroll if they wanted to.
       Regarding add-ons, a general meeting concern was that the graphics presented by CDOT do not distinguish between them and actual project-funded work. For instance, a “greenway” is shown north of the highway between 21st and 26th streets, but its recreational/open space amenities will only happen if local governments fund it, Watt said, in answer to questions. But other potential add-ons, such as pedestrian overpasses or on/off-ramps at Ridge Road, are not shown.
       Clark also questioned project cost. In its presentations CDOT has announced an estimated cost of $240 million to build the entire project (minus add-ons). But after questions from Clark, Watt conceded that an additional $60 million would be needed to buy right of way (which will remove 61 businesses and 6 residences).
       No funding source has been identified - nor is there any for Cimarron/I-25 - although Watt has said at presentations that he foresees work starting as soon as 2016.

Westside Pioneer article