Beautification of block by new Bijou bridge

       As Bijou Street's I-25 interchange nears final completion, it may seem logical to motorists that its ornamental style should continue along the block of Bijou on either side of it - a kind of invitation to go in either direction. Looking west from the new, little plaza at the northwest
corner of the I-25 ramps and Bijou Street, the
COSMIX-related enhancements in lighting, sidewalks, median and landscaping can be seen in the block up to Spruce Street (at the 7-Eleven).
Westside Pioneer photo
       But that's not what the plans once showed. About a year ago, with the Bijou bridge replacement work already starting as part of the COSMIX I-25 widening project by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), nothing special was foreseen in the block west of the bridge to Spruce Street. By contrast, the east side of the bridge was good to go, with the Downtown Partnership ponying up some funding and working with CDOT engineers on beautification plans.
       West of the bridge, instead of the ornamental street lights that are installed now, there would have been the kinds of cobra-headed types that are found around town (and were replaced in Old Colorado City two years ago). The brick pavers now between the sidewalk and curb would have been rocks or gravel, and there would have been fewer street trees and shrubs, plan comparisons show.
       The upgrades reflected agreements at hastily called meetings between CDOT and local business and government leaders early this year. Leading that effort was Sallie Clark, a Westside bed & breakfast owner and El Paso County commissioner.
       At the meetings, she argued that the Westside had been “neglected” in the bridge plans, which was unfortunate, she said, because Bijou “is the gateway into the Westside.”
       Now that the block is finished, she said happily in a recent interview, “Doesn't it look nice?”
       A big concern at the time was how to pay for the extra work, which was estimated at close to $200,000. As it turned out, CDOT covered the bulk of the costs, in trade for the city's agreement to handle the long-term maintenance, according to George Hayward, a CDOT spokesperson.
       The city has a low-cost care plan for the trees. They are being watered with a newly installed, underground drip system that uses non-potable water and runs on a timer, according to Jerry Banks, the city's engineering programs manager.
       The block's enhancements include the little plaza (formerly a gas station) between the I-25 southbound off-ramp and the Clarion Hotel. The plaza was beefed up from the original plan, which had called for just a concrete walk, eight trees and some shrubs and grass. The final version has more trees and shrubs, no grass (reducing watering costs) and a curved, slightly stepped-up front area that's stylized with concrete and brick pavers.
       In response to people who have puzzled about the purpose of the front area, Clark explained that the idea is to eventually put a sculpture there, and possibly some flags, but she has not yet had time to move ahead with her idea to work out a plan with the City Arts Commission, the Downtown Partnership, Old Colorado City merchants and other potentially interested entities.
       The plaza is additionally meant to house an attractive sign that would tell people going west from the bridge that they are on their way to the Westside or Old Colorado City. The volunteer Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) has supported this concept, but money is an issue. Clark said she will “look for funding,” but there is no deadline for when the sign has to go in.
       The Downtown Partnership recently erected two of its own logo signs on the bridge.
       South of the plaza, between the I-25 southbound on-ramp and the Denny's restaurant, will be a parking lot for El Paso County Department of Human Services (DHS) employees. Clark also spearheaded this change. At one point, CDOT had been planning to use the corner (formerly a car rental business) for a detention pond to capture interstate runoff, but Clark argued that such would be potentially unsightly, and DHS needed the parking.
       Hayward said a separate lease agreement between CDOT and the county was worked out for that property, which is also receiving some design touches so that it won't look so obviously like a parking lot to people getting off I-25.
       CDOT's final costs for accomplishing the extra work in the bridge-to-Spruce block of Bijou were not delineated. Dave Poling, the project manager for CDOT, said that once the decision was made to include that block its expenses were lumped in with all the other bridge costs. CDOT was able to cover any extra costs by temporarily taking funds from projects elsewhere, he explained.
       The improvements are appreciated by the local merchants, according to Mike Morrissey, owner of a nearby liquor store. The only discontent he's aware of relate to the city's decision to install a raised median between the two sides of traffic, which impairs access (depending on the driver's direction) to the Denny's or the Clarion Hotel. This could also mean a safety issue with a higher number of u-turns at the Spruce/Bijou intersection, he said.

Westside Pioneer article