Westside Hwy 24 planners impressed by citizen turnout
115 attend initial meeting in public process to plan road’s future

       Ideas aplenty poured forth Nov. 18 at the initial Colorado Depart-ment of Transportation (CDOT) meeting to find out what citizens would like to see happen with Highway 24 on the Westside.
       But what most pleased CDOT's consultants/ meeting organizers was the number of people who came to the West Intergenerational Center to listen and/or to voice their opinions.
       A total of 115 signed in, according to Mary Jo Vobejda, an engineer with the consulting firm of CH2M Hill who is serving as project leader for the Highway 24 planning effort. There were so many people that separate, simultaneous discussions had to be held in the band room and cafeteria, and still there were people standing.
       “It shows the neighbors are interested and willing to participate,” Vobejda said, adding she'd expected more like 60 to 80 attendees.
       She said she hopes the numbers will stay high at the next meeting, to be held on an as-yet-unspecified date in late January.
       Vobejda and other consultants at the meeting repeatedly insisted that no improvement strategies - even seemingly obvious work like widening the highway to accommodate increasing traffic - have been pre-determined.
       Proving this point, the consultants in no way discouraged citizen suggestions for transportation alternatives, such as light rail or improved bus service, to lighten the traffic load along the highway corridor.
       According to pre-meeting CDOT information, the public meetings, which are slated to continue bi-monthly through 2005, are intended to help CDOT “address the critical mobility and safety issues” along the highway between I-25 and Manitou Springs.
       The CDOT consultants' open-mindedness includes the project area itself. To the dismay of several Manitou Springs residents at the meeting, the consultants did not commit to an exact western termination point for the project - leaving open the possibility it could extend to the west end of Manitou or, based on a citizen suggestion that consultants recorded without objection, all the way to Cascade.
       Many of the meeting's comments reflected Westsiders' concerns about the potential detrimental effects of a bigger highway, typified by Jillien Morga's request that the project not harm “the integrity of the Westside.”
       “I'm not interested in making it faster to go from point A to point B for people who don't live here,” said Rose Kliewer, board member of the volunteer Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN).
       A frequent call during the 2½-hour session was for project enhancements to make Highway 24 less of a “barrier to the community,” as Mark Cunningham expressed it. He added that the goal should be for “the most neighborhood-friendly way to move people back and forth.”
       In that spirit, several people asked for pedestrian overpasses - including one at 25th Street to end Midland's isolation from Old Colorado City (as the Westside Pioneer has also proposed). Another popular suggestion was for a safer crossing at Ridge Road/ High Street, particularly in response to increased traffic at that intersection for people accessing the new Red Rock Canyon Open Space. A third possible site was to have a crossing next to Fountain Creek where it crosses under a Highway 24 bridge east of 21st Street.
       County Commissioner-elect Sallie Clark, long-time Westside leader Dave Hughes and OWN board member Jim Fenimore urged that the state, in framing the project, pay heed to the aesthetic and historic-preservation guidelines in the Midland or Westside plans -city-approved documents written years ago with Westsiders' help.
       Numerous people said highway noise is a major issue. No one asked for sound-dampening walls (the remedy employed in high- noise segments of I-25), but there were proposals for trees or berms to cut down traffic racket.
       Among other suggestions: Time any work to not interfere with tourist season; think about the impact any highway changes will have on businesses along Colorado Avenue (Business 24); improve traffic light synchronization; provide better landscaping than exists now; plan as much as possible for future scenarios (when fuel may be less abundant); design the project in harmony with the I-25 widening which will impact Westside Highway 24 at least to Eighth Street; and develop in conjunction with the project a trail along Fountain Creek paralleling Highway 24.
       The current four-lane divided highway was built 40 years ago when the city was four times smaller. Pre-meeting CDOT information describes the highway now as “congested” and likely to worsen if no improvements occur.
       The meetings are intended to help CDOT and its consultants create a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) by the first part of 2006, according to Bob Wilson of the engineering consulting firm of Wilson & Company. A final EA, not expected for at least two years, would define the planned work in some detail and be submitted (because it's a United States highway) to the federal government for approval. No construction money has yet been authorized.

Westside Pioneer Article