$9.5M upgrade plan for No Man’s Land; CDOT grant needed

       “No Man's Land” would get a new avenue bridge and other major civic improvements under a combined grant proposal by Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs and El Paso County. Looking west, the 1934-built Colorado Avenue bridge over
Fountain Creek is shown last week when Utilities work was blocking two of the lanes. Behind the trees at right is the Garden of the Gods Campground.
Westside Pioneer photo
       Colorado Springs City Council approved the $9.5 million application to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) at its Nov. 25 meeting - although there is no certainty of approval.
       “If you can get $9.5 million from CDOT, you get the gold,” quipped Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera to City Engineer Cam McNair as council attendees broke into laughter. “Six million, you get the silver, and if you get a half, the bronze. Either way, it's going to be great if we get any money from CDOT.”
       An answer is expected by June, according to McNair . The grant would allow local officials to upgrade an older area of the avenue that “desperately needs to be brought up to some kind of new standard,” McNair told council.
       As defined in the grant, the area is along Colorado/Manitou avenues between 31st Street and Manitou's Highway 24 interchange. Complicating matters, the northern half of the avenue (east of Manitou's city limits near Columbia Road) is in Colorado Springs, the southern half is in the county, and CDOT is responsible for the road itself.
       “It's fondly, or not so fondly, called No Man's Land,” McNair said. “The reason is that so many government entities are converging in one place. Sometimes there are jurisdictional questions of who's in charge of what.”
       The grant would be through the Maintenance Incentive Pilot Program (MIPP), by which local municipalities would take over maintenance of that part of the avenue. In exchange, CDOT would pay them the equivalent of the cost to take care of it for the next 20 years.
       But determining that equivalent is where the grant proposal gets dicey. To date, CDOT has estimated it at $2.9 million, based on ordinary maintenance, McNair said. The local governments derived $9.5 million by interpreting MIPP to mean not just maintenance, but the expense of bringing No Man's Land up to modern standards. The city's estimate for doing that is $8.5 million; the other $1 million would be to maintain what it's built.
       Currently the area has aging drainage and utilities sytems; scanty curb, gutter and sidewalks; and an avenue bridge (over Fountain Creek near Columbia Road) that's barely within city safety tolerances. “It was built in 1934 and has a sufficiency rating of 51.8,” McNair said. “Usually when it's 50 or less, it needs to be replaced. We are concerned about this bridge. It doesn't have the capacity to carry a 100-year flood or for pedestrians and bicyclists.”
       Also factored into the grant request were the costs to purchase right of way for amenities such as sidewalks, he explained.
       The grant request faces yet another obstacle, which is that the MIPP fund contains only $20 million in all. So the local governments are asking for almost half of that. And there is no wait-till-next-year aspect, in that state budget cuts have eliminated MIPP altogether after 2009. “We're keeping our fingers crossed,” McNair said, that CDOT gets few, if any, other requests from the program.
       The No Man's Land cost estimates were put together by Nolte Associates Inc., which previously had performed a blight study in the same area for Manitou Springs as part of an urban renewal study.
       El Paso County has supported the effort, chiefly through Westsider/ County Commissioner Sallie Clark, who has been part of a task force for the past few years that has been looking for funding sources. “While “No Man's Land's” jurisdictional issues are particularly challenging, I support the submittal of a grant application for MIPP where Colorado Springs will assume future responsibility,” she said recently.
       Mike Leslie, the Manitou finance director, said in a follow-up interview the city has not yet figured out all the details for implementing improvements on its side. For instance, there are places where buildings are so close to the road it may not be possible to fit in sidewalks on both sides, he noted.
       “Right now we're just concentrating on getting the funding,” he said. “How this translates afterwards will be a whole separate set of meetings.”
       McNair also acknowledged that meetings would be a necessary part of the process, should CDOT agree to the MIPP grant request. “We'll need significant public outreach to make this happen,” he said. He too could not predict exactly what the final outcome will look like. “We want to have sidewalks and bike lanes, and whether the road stays at four lanes or becomes something different will be worked out with the people who are most affected.”
       Even simple improvements will be a step in the right direction, according to C ity Council member Jerry Heimlicher. “It will give a much nicer view of Colorado Springs than in the past,” he said.

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