Columns » Between The Lines

Council takes smart steps


Sometimes you can watch a Colorado Springs City Council meeting and shake your head in disbelief. Other times, our elected representatives can be downright smart.

The latter was the case on Monday, as they discussed a subject that wouldn't make many residents' radar screens: the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan. It might sound like a waste of energy, with bureaucrats gazing into their crystal balls, trying to project needs and priorities for the next three decades.

It's much more important than that. Discussions such as these, even without an official vote, can have an impact on the entire area for generations.

One example: As you might have read here ("Visions from the past," Sept. 20), a 1974 version of this same transportation plan, which had been started in 1972, made a big deal of upgrading the Interstate 25/Cimarron interchange into a full cloverleaf, which meant no left turns leaving or entering I-25 from any direction. That was considered "imperative" for such a major gateway.

Yet the City Councils of that era chose not to push hard for implementing the plan, which also included such brilliant ideas as widening I-25 to six lanes from Fort Carson up to Douglas County, making Powers Boulevard an expressway, creating a major east-west route (Woodmen Road) from Falcon to I-25, and a full I-25 bypass (aside from Powers) east of the city.

Those plans, and others, gathered dust for years. Finally came the I-25 upgrades through Colorado Springs, along with certain other projects, such as Woodmen, moving forward.

Two items on the latest regional plan stood out for different reasons. One was the idea of extending Constitution Avenue westward to I-25 (actually to the underused Fontanero exit) and then further up and around to Centennial Boulevard. The other was that pesky, long-overlooked I-25/Cimarron interchange.

Based on community feedback, the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments had identified the Constitution extension to be funded and built in the time frame of 2031-2035 but then decided to remove it altogether. The public gave it a high priority, but PPACG was stepping gingerly because City Council refused in the late 1990s (and in 2002) to approve the idea. That was a bitter issue at the time, and then-activist Margaret Radford led the initial battle that killed the project.

Now Radford is in her second term on City Council, and she admits opposing the Constitution extension "with every cell of my being," which had something to do with PPACG taking it off the plan. But she also realized, along with others around her, the city's needs might be totally different in 10 to 15 years.

So, instead of killing the idea again, City Council directed PPACG to put Constitution back on the list, with other supportive words from Mayor Lionel Rivera as well as Jerry Heimlicher, Randy Purvis, Jan Martin and Darryl Glenn. And if a future Council decides to make it happen, so be it.

Before the discussion ended, Vice Mayor Larry Small brought up that Cimarron interchange. He pointed out that it had slipped in priority because of two military-related projects that had been pushed to the top: the Colorado Highway 16 interchange at Fort Carson's east gate, and Peterson Air Force Base's new west gate at Powers.

Small also noticed further widening of I-25 north of the city was on a faster track than the Cimarron interchange, which couldn't be funded until 2016-2020, perhaps later. Small reminded the group that the new interchange was a big deal not only for Colorado Springs but Woodland Park, Manitou Springs, Teller County and Park County, all of which are part of this region's plan.

So, just like that, pushed by Rivera and Small, City Council directed a switch in priorities before the 30-year plan is officially adopted March 12. Based on that, the I-25/Cimarron interchange now could be funded and built by 2015, instead of later. It also won't be tied to any other westbound U.S. 24 work, which could have held it back by creating a bigger price tag.

In the end, without taking a single official vote Monday, the City Council took two steps that might seem trivial now, but someday might be described as monumental.

We don't need the most urgent of those transportation plans and priorities to stay in the cobwebs. Perhaps now they won't.

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