State looking for help from public in setting look and feel of new I-25/Cimarron interchange

       With less than a year before construction on the new Cimarron/I-25 interchange, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) wants to hear from the public.
       Not about layout, width of lanes, angles of ramps or engineering issues like those. The state wants to know people's ideas about the look and feel of a structure meant to be a “gateway” to the downtown, the Westside and the mountains, according to an interview with Dave Watt, CDOT's resident engineer for the Colorado Springs area.
       A meeting has been scheduled Tuesday, June 3 at City Auditorium downtown, 221 E. Kiowa St., from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Dave Watt

       The public's feedback will be considered for inclusion in the request for proposals (RFP) that CDOT will be writing for prospective project contractors in July. An RFP “tells contractors what they're required to provide,” Watt said. “We're looking for the best value we can get toward achieving project goals” (which include aesthetics as the fourth priority behind safety, schedule timeliness and minimal public impact).
       The contractor will be hired in the fall, starting preliminary work by December and most likely showing visible construction activity by June 2015, he said.
       The anticipated finish date is July 2017.
       The budget, with funds fully allocated, is $95 million. The scope will only cover I-25/Cimarron. A companion interchange at Eighth and Cimarron has no funding at this time.
       To allow innovation “in the field,” the project will be bid with the idea that 80 percent of the design can be left up to the contractor. However, key parts of the other 20 percent have been already been determined, primarily the project scope (with the new structure about 40 feet west of the old one, to help straighten out I-25's curves to the north and south), revised ramp layouts and a change in how the traffic should move underneath the bridge (similar to the I-25/ Garden of the Gods interchange).
       CDOT has been discussing aesthetics since last fall with community business and civic leaders, chiefly through an ad hoc group called the Working Team Stakeholders (WTS). The Westside has been represented through the Old Colorado City Associates business group, the Organization of Westside Neighbors and El Paso County (via Commissioner/ Westside resident Sallie Clark).
       A consensus that's come out of the WTS meetings is for an interchange that is compatible in appearance with other recently built bridges in that area (such as Bijou Street and Colorado Avenue). Also agreed is that the new structure should take advantage of its own uniqueness, in that it links to a major roadway, offers mountain views and sits near America the Beautiful Park and the confluence of Fountain and Monument creeks.
       As part of that scenic setting - and because no residential neighborhoods are close by - CDOT has decided not to install sound barriers at the interchange, Watt said.
       Another decision that CDOT has made, going into the meeting, is to relocate the Midland Trail east of Eighth Street, based on discussions with City Parks. Instead of its present northeast route going under the interstate a few hundred feet south of Colorado Avenue, the trail will follow the north side of Fountain Creek (paralleling Cimarron) under the interchange to connect with the Greenway Trail beside Monument Creek. It's part of a shared city-state goal to take advantage of creeks as “riparian amenities,” Watt said. He pledged a “cleaned-up creek” that will mean a “better entryway for pedestrians and bicyclists into America the Beautiful Park.”
       Improved landscaping within the entire project area (including lands CDOT now owns by future on/off ramps) is also shown in CDOT subcontractor renderings. The public will get to offer ideas on that aspect too. However, Watt said it has not yet been established how such public greenery will be maintained in the future.
       As for the interchange structure, CDOT will offer different subcontractor renderings with suggested possibilities at the June 3 meeting. Ideas are being sought on touches such as paneling, ornamental work and streetlight styling.
       Whatever comes out of the meeting, Watt pledged that the resulting interchange will not be a “gray slab of concrete,” such as the current version that was built with the original I-25 construction in 1959.

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