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No choice for Cimarron Bridge


Surprise, surprise. So now Colorado Springs plans to tear down Cimarron Bridge this fall, then rebuild it from scratch.

We really don't have a choice anymore, do we? Not after the city sat around for an entire year instead of pushing the bridge to the top of every priority list.

Now the only reasonable choice is to close the road east of Interstate 25, destroy what's left of the decaying, dangerous bridge and construct a replacement as soon as possible. No matter how cold or nasty the winter becomes.

At this point, the city staff would have trouble convincing me this wasn't their plan all along. Just wait until the Bijou and Colorado Avenue bridges are done, then shut down Cimarron, blame it on the threat of more deterioration from freeze-thaw cycles, and rebuild that bridge from scratch instead of one side at a time.

If the city had said that to begin with, we might have questioned the strategy, but at least it would have been something to question. That's better than being exasperated over what has appeared to be some mixture of intentional foot-dragging, apathy and procrastination.

At least one city councilor, Tom Gallagher, wanted to do something about Cimarron Bridge long ago. Gallagher insisted the project could have been done as soon as four months after the partial closure in August 2006. It could have been finished before Bijou was closed early this year. But nothing happened until now.

Of course, this has been the Colorado Springs way for decades, even generations.

Build an eastern bypass freeway, especially before Powers Boulevard is developed? Naw. Develop Woodmen Road as a major east-west thoroughfare, even with limited access in places? Nope, too costly.

Extend Constitution Avenue westward to reach Interstate 25 at the current Fontanero exit, continuing west and north from there and connecting with Centennial? Too much trouble.

Make sure the U.S. 24 bypass is finished all the way to Powers, instead of just going a mile or so east of I-25 and depositing traffic onto city streets? That would make too much sense.

We never seem to learn from our past mistakes, and everyday people live with the consequences.

Cimarron Bridge is just another chapter. Later, we'll have to deal with more, such as the overloaded I-25/Cimarron exit and building a far-too-late overpass for the crunched Woodmen-Academy intersection.

The latest idea for Cimarron is to wait until the new I-25/Bijou Street exit opens, by Oct. 1 as we're now told, and then close the Cimarron Bridge to start demolition as soon as Oct. 15. That way, four lanes "should" be finished and open before next Memorial Day, in time for the 2008 tourist season.

City Council should not allow that to be a flimsy commitment. The contractor should be forced to finish the project, regardless of weather, by April 30. Anything later than that would mean a stiff, automatic daily fine.

This is supposed to save "some money" and a "little time," city engineer Cam McNair said Monday to City Council. Gallagher, to his credit, suggested those descriptions were conservative. He's right.

Unless it saves a lot of money and more than a few months, it's not worth isolating businesses such as The Warehouse bar/restaurant and Old Town Bike Shop, or the Convention and Visitors Bureau. All of them and more will feel the crunch for six months, much as downtown has suffered with Bijou closed.

The honorable response is to mention the Minneapolis bridge and say that safety has to be the top priority. But that won't help The Warehouse's new owners and other businesses through next winter.

Instead, once again, we'll hear the familiar refrain wait, we've already heard it this week that "it'll only be a few months ... just a minor inconvenience, and then everything will be fine."

Really? By the time it's done, motorists who have used Cimarron for downtown access will have endured nearly two years of major inconvenience.

At some point, one would hope that somebody in city government will conduct an honest evaluation of that two-year period, month by month, to determine how the problems could have been addressed more rapidly and effectively.

In the real world, that's the way to learn from mistakes. It also requires strong leadership. As Colorado Springs looks for a new city manager, situations such as this must be part of that discussion.

It's not too late for that.

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