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Stormwater aside, city infrastructure needs total $1.6 billion

'Elephant' in the room



Notice the bumpy roads in Colorado Springs lately? Some of them are real teeth-rattlers, and they need to be resurfaced.

But city projects that you can't see or feel might be even more troublesome: failing bridges, aging buildings and outdated emergency radio systems. Altogether, said Mayor Steve Bach at a July 30 town hall meeting, the city has $1.6 billion in capital needs, excluding stormwater projects, which themselves are estimated at roughly $700 million.

Chief of Staff Laura Neumann said at the meeting that the projects have been prioritized on "A, B and C" lists, and acknowledged that $1.6 billion is "a very, very big number."

"Now, we're looking at ways to attack that elephant with one bite at a time," she said.

Though the city refused to release the list of projects, saying it was a "work product prepared for elected officials," Neumann says via email she will present the list to City Council on Monday. She also notes, "Much of what we discussed at our Town Hall has been previewed by citizen groups and contributed by many active citizens and business professionals."

A few needs were mentioned specifically at the meeting. For one thing, Neumann said that while the city should be resurfacing 10 percent of its road miles per year, currently it's handling only 2 percent. Also, Bach said that 126 police cruisers have more than 100,000 miles on them, so the city also needs to look at replacing vehicles.

City Councilors Andy Pico and Helen Collins have attended a couple meetings of the mayor's capital improvements committee, which doesn't post its meetings as open to the public. Pico explains the projects are being organized into five-year "blocks," with the total reaching $1.6 billion over 20 years.

He says one project on the list, but not in the first five-year block, is the extension of Constitution Avenue to Interstate 25 to improve east-west mobility. Making Constitution a major thoroughfare is among the most controversial matters considered by Council in recent memory. Homeowners have succeeded in preventing the road from becoming a chief east-west corridor; Constitution ends at Templeton Gap Road on the west and Highway 24 on the east.

To his knowledge, Pico says no funding options have been discussed, but it's hard not to think in terms of a tax increase, given the sheer enormity of the price tag. And that's a dicey proposition, as local officials look for ways to fund the region's billion-dollar stormwater backlog, as well as four tourism projects proposed by Bach and community members that will require $75 million in some kind of public funding.

The "City for Champions" proposal calls for construction of a downtown baseball stadium/event center, a downtown Olympic museum, a new Air Force Academy visitors center near I-25, and a sports medicine facility at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Local supporters are seeking $82 million in state sales tax rebates and hope to raise $61 million in private donations.

Pico isn't wild about seeing several potential tax hikes — for infrastructure, stormwater and City for Champions — headed for the ballot.

"People are likely to vote 'no' on all three," he says, adding: "We have low taxes and I would like to keep them low.

"But you get to the point, what do we do?"

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