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Fork in the road



What's in a name?

Normally, questions like this are best left to the Bard, but these days, the philosophical query has been attacked with gusto by none other than the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority board, and the various boards and committees that feed into it.

The name in question this time is "Transportation."

Board members and citizens are unsure whether "Transportation" should be limited to roads, or include trails for only bikes and pedestrians. And if trails are included, should they mirror a road, or can trails that carve their own paths through the city and county be included?

One strong voice in the debate has been Trails and Open Space Coalition leader Susan Davies.

"You can't ignore the needs and the voices of your trail users," she says. "And if you do, when PPRTA II comes up for a vote next November, we as a group will not be very enthusiastic."

Ah yes, PPRTA II. In 2004, voters of Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls and unincorporated El Paso County approved the first PPRTA, a one-cent sales and use tax for a set list of capital and maintenance projects and improvements to the roads and transit system. The capital portion (55 percent) expires at the end of 2014.

Because local governments have come to rely on the PPRTA to fund critical needs, local leaders have been crafting a list of new projects to propose to voters in November. A vote for these projects would be a vote to continue the tax.

But, as in the first PPRTA, opinions abound on what should make the list. In 2004, El Paso County funded only capital road projects and related, non-motorized projects; the city included an extension of Pikes Peak Greenway on its "A" list.

Now, as the city and county prepare to present their final, whittled-down PPRTA II projects to the PPRTA board April 11, the city has several trails it wants to address, much to the delight of Davies and other parks advocates. The county, meanwhile, considered trail projects but then dropped all of them.

Safety first?

Details of the city and county lists are still being hammered out.

City traffic engineer Kathleen Krager says the city has identified $15,987,000 in high-priority trail, sidewalk and bike-lane improvements, or 7.86 percent of its total $203.4 million "A" list budget. The trails weren't eligible to be funded by the Trails, Open Space and Parks tax.

"When we started looking at projects, we had five categories of projects, one being non-motorized," Krager explains by e-mail. "We set some very basic goals for each category ... to achieve what we hope is a well-balanced list."

County engineer Andre Bracken, meanwhile, says the county will add bike lane and pedestrian trails alongside major road projects on its "A" list, as required by county guidelines. But he said county committees and staff agreed it was best to leave stand-alone trail projects off the list, because the county had many overdue road projects that were presenting safety concerns.

"This is not something that we've had our head buried in the sand about," Bracken says. "The county, my department, as well as [the county] parks [department] have been very active with trails. Unfortunately, the money is just not here — for not only trails, but transportation projects in general. [Other] money has just dried up and gone away."

Unlike the city, which chose its "A" list with the intent of splitting money among different needs and types of users (cyclists, walkers, bus riders, drivers), the county based priorities only on factors like congestion, accident history, available funding, how much pre-construction work was completed, and whether the project was a priority.

Split decision-makers

Ultimately, the PPRTA board, composed of area elected officials, will decide which projects make up the ballot issue. But for months now, committee members have discussed stand-alone trails. Several interviewed for this story characterize those discussions as "spirited."

Brian Wess, a six-year member of PPRTA Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), says that "on this issue we are more split than I have ever seen our board."

Wess sides with the county but says he isn't "anti-trail." Rather, Wess believes stand-alone trails are a recreation issue, and it's wrong to fund them with dollars supposedly earmarked for transportation.

"No one can credibly argue that even 1 percent of the city's population, which is 4,000 people, are riding their bikes to work every day," Wess says.

He feels the city and county should focus on fixing crumbling bridges and dangerous roads, not expanding a trails system they already have trouble maintaining. If those trail extensions were so important, he asks, why hasn't the city budgeted for them out of its general fund?

John Newer, a member of the city's Citizens Transportation Advisory Board and the CAC, sees it differently. He says the city's funds for trails aren't enough to fund a major road or bridge project. He notes that transportation should serve all, even those who don't use cars. Newer doesn't buy the idea that trails are only legitimate PPRTA projects if they're used for commuting, not recreation.

"When I drive my car on the road," he says, "is it always for me to go to work?"

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