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Slim fast

City's roadway restriping plan stalls amid county outcry


The South Tejon Street slimming project, which city employees have dubbed the "makeover with the diet plan," has El Paso County commissioners in histrionics, claiming they never were consulted about proposed changes to the roadway.

The so-called "road diet" would shrink South Tejon Street from four to two lanes between Vermijo Avenue and the Interstate 25 onramp. The project was scheduled to begin last week after the road was repaved, but stalled when county officials protested.

"I am always one for liking to know the process ahead of time, and not dealing with it at the 11th hour," says County Commissioner and Chairwoman Sallie Clark, who claims in contrast to what the city says that transportation staff never clued the county in on the plans.

At the behest of the commissioners, city transportation staff explained the road diet at last Thursday's Board of County Commissioners meeting. The commissioners focused on the single block between Vermijo Avenue and Costilla Street, which is flanked by five county-owned buildings. They fretted that a two-lane road would limit access to those buildings and slow traffic through the area.

"It goes against the plans of General Palmer," said Commissioner Jim Bensberg.

Indeed, South Tejon has been a four-lane road since time immemorial at least it seems that way to the city staff who want it changed. Senior traffic engineer Dick Carlson cannot remember a time when South Tejon looked differently, but says the narrow street never should have been a four-lane road.

"This way, it will be better for vehicular traffic," he says.

The city based the "diet plan," in part, on its study that pegged sideswipe, rear-end and parking accidents as the most common on South Tejon in the past five years. The biggest problem child was between Vermijo and Costilla the very block that county officials want maintained as is.

With 21 accidents over the past five years, that segment accounted for over one-fifth of the car crashes reviewed in the study, which looked at the area between Vermijo and Fountain Creek. This might explain why city staff is reluctant to move the project a block south, as the commissioners have recommended.

Commissioner Douglas Bruce has gone so far as to threaten to withhold the annual $3 million transportation funding that the county allocates to the city, if the project is not adjusted.

"We will need to rethink our generosity," said Bruce at the meeting, though Clark insists that the board is not currently discussing his proposal.

Bruce also expressed concerns that the restriping seems to favor bicyclists, who would have designated lanes through most of the South Tejon area. The move has garnered kudos from the nonprofit Downtown Partnership, and city transportation manager Craig Blewitt says that the bike lanes are part of the city's Intermodal Transportation Plan.

"We have a bicycle network, and we have a policy for complete streets," he says. "We want to accommodate all modes of travel."

But at Thursday's meeting, Bruce stood firm. "The city should rethink its priorities, or else someone might come up with the quip, "Craig blew it,'" he said of Blewitt.

City staff hopes to come to an agreement with the county before the end of this week, but they urge the commissioners to remember it's only paint on the road.

"The best part," reads city press material, "is that the diet is completely reversible."

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