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The local issue of 2012

Between the Lines

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Ask anyone you know to name the most important agenda item facing our nation this year, and the answer should be unanimous.

It's the presidential election, with America deciding whether to give Barack Obama a second term or not. Nobody should be surprised if Mitt Romney falters again and the Republican challenger emerges as an unexpected late entrant, whether it's Chris Christie or somebody else.

Meanwhile, on the local level, residents of Colorado Springs and El Paso County might not be so unified in identifying our biggest issue of 2012.

Many might point to the question of term limits for county-level elected officials. That one will take us back to the misleading ballot language in 2010 that gave the option of county leaders serving a third four-year term. We'll be hearing a lot about term limits, but if you ask me, that's not the issue that matters most.

The one that towers over the rest is renewing the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority's 1 percent addition to the local sales tax for another 10 years, from 2014 to 2024. Yes, the current version enacted in 2004 will continue for two more years. But community and county leaders aren't waiting until the last minute to push through the second decade of PPRTA.

Meetings already have taken place to identify specific projects for the proposal that will go to voters in November. Organizers also can point to the major accomplishments that have resulted from the 2004 measure.

We now have an interchange at Union Boulevard and Austin Bluffs Parkway. We have a modernized Woodmen Road east of Interstate 25, including the Woodmen overpass and interchange at Academy Boulevard. We have a much-improved Baptist Road up north, a new bridge on Cimarron Street connecting downtown and the west side, and a vastly improved route via Proby Parkway from South Academy Boulevard to the airport.

None of those would have happened except for PPRTA. Simple as that. And it was hard to argue with the huge need for those upgrades.

But that doesn't mean PPRTA II for the next 10 years will be a slam dunk. First, the list of projects won't be nearly as sexy. Extending Centennial Boulevard southward to connect with I-25 might appeal to people of that area, but not exactly the masses. Same with renovating the west end of Colorado Avenue in the unincorporated area called "No Man's Land" between the eastern edge of Manitou Springs and the western border of Colorado Springs.

Rebuilding some I-25 interchanges, such as at Fillmore Street, will make a difference, as well as tackling the huge task at I-25 and Cimarron/U.S. 24. But the state and federal governments also should participate in most funding of the I-25 work, and that money is far from guaranteed.

The next obstacle will be cementing the vital support of Mayor Steve Bach and others. During his campaign last year, Bach said he was inclined to support PPRTA because he viewed it as a tax extension, not an increase. But he made it clear that the list of new projects would influence his decision. City Council, meanwhile, already has approved an initial project list and appears ready to endorse PPRTA II, along with county commissioners.

But there's one other potential problem, and it could derail PPRTA II. The 2004 measure also directed 10 percent of its funding to "improved transit service," which soon meant expanding bus service to seven days a week, early morning to late at night, with more routes as well.

That fulfilled the PPRTA's intent — until the city ran into financial troubles and eventually made massive cuts. Weekend service was eliminated, then limited Saturday buses were restored. Night service vanished and hasn't come back. Many less-used routes were shut down.

People haven't forgotten that. To them, the city reneged on its promise to share in PPRTA. And something tells me that a lot of folks won't vote for the renewal unless they see a change in the city's funding and commitment to bus service.

Bring back Sunday and nighttime bus service, and that might be enough. But without that, no matter what's on that list of projects and how wonderful they might be, the voters might not go along with PPRTA II.

That's why it's the No. 1 local issue of 2012. Without question.

routon@csindy.com

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