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Neighborhood preservation and traffic mobility on collision course



A regional effort to plan for escalating traffic congestion and its worsening east-west travel quagmire over the next 20 years may be setting the stage for another collision between neighborhood preservation and pro-growth interests.

The move comes as the Colorado Springs City Council is wrestling with its own growing transportation quagmire. On Tuesday, Council reversed a 2-year-old promise to neighbors from the neighborhood surrounding Centennial Boulevard by approving 6-0 a plan to extend and widen the street as part of a major east-west transportation network through the city.

The transportation conflicts, rooted in and fueled by this area's explosive growth, pits the priorities of business, real estate and development interests against the efforts of citizen groups to preserve their neighborhoods from being overrun by big-picture growth agendas and transportation needs.

The Pikes Peak Area Council of Government (PPACG) -- a federally mandated, non-legislative body of El Paso, Teller and Park County municipalities that serves as a forum for regional planning issues -- has begun hammering out a plan called Destination 2025 that will prioritize the city's transportation projects and goals over the next 20 years.

The process is still in its early stage. But some members of the PPACG's 20-member Citizens Advisory Committee worry that neighborhood preservation concerns might be getting shouldered aside by growing demands for construction of a high-volume, fast-moving transportation network to connect the booming eastern suburbs with metropolitan downtown areas.

Committee members Lee Milner, who represents the League of Women Voters, and Jan Doran, who represents the Council of Neighborhood Organizations, say that that their group submitted a list in February of the values and goals that it would like to see guide the transportation planning process. One of the highest priorities on the list, they say, was neighborhood preservation.

Last week, the list came back after review by the Transportation Advisory Committee, a parallel PPACG advisory committee made up of technical staff representing area governments. That group's response, according to Milner, was more of a "get-the-roads-through" approach.

"TAC has every right to do that," Milner said, "but it suggests that a battle could be in store between pro-neighborhood and pro-mobility interests."

PPACG Executive Director Fred Van Antwerp disagrees with Doran and Milner's assessment.

"We're still developing the goals for this community's transportation network," he said. "Later down the road, we'll develop criteria for evaluation and decision-making that reflects those goals, and those criteria will determine how we prioritize the hundreds of transportation projects that come before PPACG. It's early and there's still a long way to go."

Van Antwerp said that his organization has plans to solicit citizen input between now and September, and that he signed a contract with Praco Advertising on Tuesday to facilitate the citizen input and focus groups. Praco is a local advertising company with close ties to city and county leaders, including the mayor.

Van Antwerp said that a round of community open houses will be conducted at the end of May "to solicit suggestions for projects to help us solve congestion in the future."

A second round in mid-July will solicit public response to the priorities PPACG assigns to the transportation projects it's considering, and a third round in mid-September will seek response to "a draft plan of the projects we feel can be built over the next five years."

Praco will also help the government agency assemble a series of focus groups of "randomly selected lay citizens whose comments will give us a deeper understanding of this community's transportation concerns."

Members of both advisory groups will meet on April 18 and 19 to forge an agreement on which criteria will guide upcoming planning decisions. The meetings, which will be open to the public, will be at 3 p.m. both days at PPACG headquarters at 15 S. 7th St.

Milner rejects the argument that it's too early in the process to be making an issue of neighborhood preservation.

"You always hear in these kinds of things that 'It's too early, it's too early,' " he said. "But it's essential that we voice our concerns early on when it's still possible to impact the process."

Doran said she's willing to take Van Antwerp at his word, but nevertheless said, "Neighborhood preservation isn't getting enough priority so far."

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