Bumps in the road?
Utility costs, time concerns arise in No Man’s Land upgrade study; public meeting July 1
Bumps are starting to appear in the once-smooth road to a major upgrade project in No Man's Land.
Although project manager Andre Brackin is hopeful that issues can still be resolved, he has begun expressing concern about the unavoidable need to replace aged utility lines under much of Colorado/Manitou Avenue between 31st Street and Manitou's Highway 24 overpass and how that work could expand the project scope disproportionately.
In a recent interview, he described a “worst case scenario” in which available funds might be as much as $5 million short of the actual cost; also, he said, because of potential limitations on how much time Colorado Springs Utilities can devote to the project, the work could last considerably longer than the late-2015- to-late-2016 span that's been discussed previously.
More specific answers could be available by the time of a public meeting/ open house that's been scheduled Wednesday, July 1 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Westside Community Center, 1628 W. Bijou St. The focus will be the Westside Avenue Action Plan (WAAP), a study by government officials and consultants on the No Man's Land segment.
Started in 2012, WAAP is intended to lead to a final design for a roughly $15 million project that would include (in addition to utility upgrades) a new Colorado Avenue bridge over Fountain Creek at Columbia Road, a missing Midland Trail section and a partial realignment of the avenue between there and Ridge Road.
After years of neglect - leading to the “no man's land” nickname - the project concept made the list of “A”-ranked Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Au-thority (RTA) projects that voters approved in 2012; it even became one of the RTA's top priorities.
In a complex arrangement, the project is being led by El Paso County (for which Brackin is head engineer), with funding and administrative support from Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs and other funding resulting from the state handing responsibility of that part of the avenue to the county.
The project started with about $16 million in all, and about $1 million of that has been devoted to the WAAP study. But now, without assurances otherwise, “we could be looking at a $20 million cost [for the entire project],” Brackin said.
As for time, he noted that Springs Utilities officials have told him that they “typically only do one block a year.” Based on that rate and the project's avenue length, “it could take 10 years to get done,” he calculated.
Brackin did not blame Utilities for the uncertainty, but made clear that the complexities were not fully understood until more recent, detailed talks with its representatives.
A related question, which Brackin termed a “big delta,” is where the money will come from to pay for the numerous connections to private properties that are necessary when new utility lines and pipes are installed underground. Utilities officials have told him that “their costs end at the road right of way,” Brackin noted. At the same time, he doesn't think it would be right for the project to bill the affected property owners.
A final agreement on Utilities' involvement in the project is not expected to be worked out before August, Brackin said.
Regardless of how those talks go, “we're looking for more money and ways to make the project more efficient,” he said.
One possible saving that's being considered is to eliminate all project costs between 31st and 33rd streets. However, the saving would be relatively minor, he said, because the only anticipated work in that area is a pavement overlay and bus-stop upgrades.
At the same time, Brackin said he is having to deal with a recent push from some Manitou officials who want to add to the project scope a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over the avenue that would “provide a continuous Midland Trail connection.”
Brackin described such a span as “an amenity [that's] not a critical need” and might not even get used much, anyway.
Brackin also recently dealt with comments from Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder, who first claimed at a public meeting that the town was not getting its fair share from the project, then withdrew that allegation after Brackin provided additional details.
Westside Pioneer article