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CDOT visits El Paso County Commissioners for transportation planning update

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) came to El Paso County to discuss transportation issues with El Paso County Commissioners at Centennial Hall Tuesday as part of a statewide tour of all 64 Colorado counties.

CDOT is creating a ten-year plan for transportation in Colorado.

“We’re posing some pretty big-picture philosophical questions that get at where we want to be as a state in ten years with our transportation system. What are those major investments we need,” said Rebecca White, Division of Transportation Development Director.

The presentation included discussion of safety, risks to the transportation system like floods and fires and resilience, the economy and multi-modal mobility as well as current and planned CDOT projects for El Paso County.

Responding to White’s invitation for comments, Commissioner Stan VanderWerf said, “One of the things we suffer from is [the lack of] a limited-access highway system in eastern El Paso County, something that looks like I-25, but produces an alternative high-speed pathway through our community.”

“I know that we had some opportunities in the past to try to pursue that,” he continued. “We didn’t get there, but I think that it’s inevitable that somewhere down the road we’re going to need to have something like that.”

Asked by Complete Colorado after the meeting about CDOT long-range planning for an eastern bypass loop around Colorado Springs and whether it would be prudent to start acquiring rights of way before development precludes such a highway, White said, “We will focus a lot on our existing system and keeping people moving through there.”

“To the extent that a city or a local government comes to us and says we want to look at alternative ways and moving people off the network, we’re certainly there at the table with them, but until they initiate that discussion we’re going to focus on what we have on our project list and keep our roads safe and maintained,” she continued.

She did not elaborate on the meaning of “alternative ways and moving people off the network.”

Colorado Springs eliminated an already-planned 4-lane, high-speed, limited-access right of way, the Banning Lewis Parkway, as a potential corridor for such a bypass route when it agreed to restate the original 1988 annexation agreement for the ranch with the current owners in 2018.

Part of that agreement was narrowing the right of way for the Parkway from 300 feet, standard for a 4-lane limited-access highway, to 147 feet. The city also eliminated the requirement that the current owner, Nor’wood Development, build the grade-separation bridges required by the original annexation agreement.

This turned the Parkway into a narrower, slower, surface arterial with signalized intersections.

During public hearings on the Banning Lewis annexation agreement, Kathleen Krager, former Engineering Division Manager for Colorado Springs told Complete Colorado that a limited-access highway on the east side of Colorado Springs was “not needed.”

At a Feb. 2, 2018 City Council listening session Krager said, “Colorado Springs is not at the congestion level and the density levels that are needed in the city to really call for a bypass.”

She went on to say, “If we do need a beltway it will be because of development continuing to occur to the east. Let El Paso County accommodate that rather than using a city road to accommodate it.”

Krager, who was heavily criticized for her road dieting and bike-lane decisions by residents and who said “congestion is good” and “it increases other modes of transportation” in a 2015 PowerPoint presentation to the city’s Infill Steering Committee, retired Feb. 1, 2019, two months before Mayor Suthers’ reelection on April 2.

Congestion on I-25 through Colorado Springs is already an issue that’s on CDOT’s radar. The installation of ramp-metering equipment that will control the flow of traffic onto the highway to lessen slowdowns is already in progress.

CDOT is spending $3.3 million to install lights that will force drivers on the on-ramps to wait to enter the highway.

The list of metered ramps includes:

  • Bijou St. to northbound I-25
  • Uinta St. both north and southbound
  • Fontanero St. north and southbound
  • Fillmore St. north and southbound
  • Garden of the Gods Rd. north and southbound
  • Rockrimmon Blvd. southbound
  • Nevada Ave. northbound

CDOT also has several other I-25 projects in the works or being planned that include widening, adding shoulders and installing cable median barriers south of downtown.

But the question of long-term transportation planning for, as Commissioner VanderWerth put it, the “inevitable” future congestion on I-25, the only north-south major highway route through El Paso County, remains unanswered.

CDOT has been saying, “We can’t build our way out of congestion” for some time now as part of its agenda of getting people out of their cars and onto public transit.

Their published strategic goal is to “significantly expand multimodal options, statewide, to provide a more sustainable, efficient, and equitable transportation network, reducing per capita VMT [vehicle miles traveled] by 1% annually and reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the transportation sector in conjunction with [the] Governor’s Electrification Executive Order.”

But City Councilman Wayne Williams, addressing the Commissioners at the meeting, said, “I have recently been in two other western states that have both had the type of growth we have.”

“Nevada, in the [Las] Vegas area went from two lane roads each direction to five lane roads,” Williams continued. “Utah went from two or three lane roads to five lane roads with light rail. As long as we continue to add a single lane to our interstate system once every 40 or 50 years, we can’t possibly keep up. CDOT’s real funding is less than a quarter in real dollars of what it was 30 years ago. They need more money and the Legislature needs to prioritize it.”

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