COLORADO SPRINGS — The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) on Monday presented the El Paso County Commissioners with its $40 million redesign for the notorious Powers Boulevard and Research Parkway intersection in northeast Colorado Springs. Powers Blvd. is also state highway 21 and CDOT is responsible for the necessary upgrades.
Long waits at the intersection, particularly for left turns, and danger to pedestrians, including students at Liberty High School living on the north side of Powers who walk to school were addressed in CDOT’s plan to build an overpass for Powers with a “diverging diamond” interchange below on Research similar to one at I-25 and West Fillmore St.
The diverging diamond interchange was selected from among several options after a CDOT traffic study. It allows traffic turning left onto Powers from Research as well as from Powers exit ramps to make a “free left” without waiting for a second signal once vehicles have crossed over to the other side of the roadway.
The design includes enhancements for pedestrian safety, including a protected walkway between the traffic lanes and reducing the number of lane crossings substantially by using four signalized crossings and safety islands.
As recently as 2011, Colorado Spring’s Major Thoroughfare Plan
envisioned both Powers and the Banning Lewis Parkway (BLP) as east-side high-speed freeways. Changes to Powers and the narrowing of the BLP right of way championed by former city traffic engineer Kathleen Krager during the Banning Lewis Ranch annexation renegotiations precludes their use as east-side bypass routes to relieve congestion through downtown Colorado Springs on I-25.
During the Banning Lewis Ranch (BLR) annexation agreement negotiations that culminated in a reduction of the width of the city right of way for the BLP Krager told Complete Colorado, “If we do need a beltway it will be because of development continuing to occur to the east and let El Paso County accommodate that rather than using a city road to accommodate it.”
The Powers freeway concept didn’t survive the construction process and it became a surface arterial with at-grade intersections.
Colorado Springs City Councilman Bill Murray said during the BLR meetings that the city is not being strategic enough in its long term planning, and Powers was an example of a good idea that turned sour.
The surface intersections at Research and further south are problematic due to current traffic levels and anticipated increases as the BLR is built out.
Murray says inadequate planning and design failed to provide frontage roads and overpasses south of Woodman Road.
At the time Murray told Complete Colorado, “I want people to reflect on the fact that when Powers was built it was supposed to be a limited access highway until the developers got hold of it. Now you have a streetlights every 150 yards and we’ve had to build extra lanes into Powers, and we’re not done yet.”
”That costs city taxpayers,” Murray said.
In recent years CDOT built three of the planned overpasses at Old Ranch Road, Union and Briargate, speeding traffic flow considerably, and the connection between Interquest and I-25 is currently in process.
CDOT representatives alluded to future plans to turn Powers back into a limited-access freeway, but didn’t say how or when.
Commissioner Stan VanderWerf said, “It’s the right thing to do for the Powers corridor that really does need to be a more efficient road for the eastern part El Paso County with a limited access design through the whole corridor, including the parts that are already developed.”
The problem with the plan is that there is currently no funding available for the project.
VanderWerf asked CDOT what the funding options are.
John Hall, resident engineer for CDOT said, “Our Commission is looking at that right now, and in the next few months is supposed to give those priorities. We’re doing everything we can to have an optimistic outlook.”
The project is in the budget for 2021 if the funds allocated by the Legislature as part of Senate Bill 276 are still available. Earlier availability of funding remains in question, but Hall said, “It’s definitely possible.”
Shane Ferguson, CDOT project engineer said, “We’ve developed a priority list that will be advanced to the PPACG (Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments) Board of Director’s meeting on the 9th. On the list for this area of the state, this project is listed as number one priority. That being said, it is going to be competing against priorities across the state for funding. That decision should be made in November by the [Colorado] Transportation Commission.
Commissioner Mark Waller said, “As a parent with a child at Liberty high school, this cannot happen soon enough. I have many times been stuck making a left turn from northbound Powers west onto Research, and it is a four-light cycle proposition.”