Columns » Between The Lines

Where's the leadership?


News flash: The rebuilding of Cimarron Bridge will continue for at least 18 months, perhaps longer.

If you believe that's OK, perhaps you're convinced Colorado Springs has no serious traffic-related problems. And if that's your honest opinion, you are hereby sentenced to 30 days of driving through the Woodmen and Academy intersection every morning and afternoon.

If, instead, you're reaching the end of your rope, join the angry chorus for a litany of questions about The Neverending Story of the city's carotid artery, Interstate 25, and its branches.

Regarding Cimarron, the word now is that we might have four lanes crammed into one side by next spring, with both sides not fully open until fall 2008.

Don't believe it. At this rate, America's next president will be inaugurated before that bridge is done. Meanwhile, the COSMIX folks insist the new Bijou interchange and bridge will be finished late this year. Thankfully, so far, they've stayed close to their I-25 timetables.

Of course, half the Cimarron rebuild initially was to be completed this summer.

When will we ever get the full story? How many times do the people not just everyday citizens, but weary business-owners have to put up with having their interests ignored?

When will somebody wake up to the vacuum of forceful, problem-solving leadership?

Who in the heck is really in charge here?

Colorado Springs never has felt like a city that relishes being victimized. Yet when it comes to traffic issues, the Springs has put up with abuse for decades.

Nobody takes up for the public. Not the state's leaders and agencies. And not city government.

Everybody, at some point, has been wrong. This time, let's pin more guilt on the city. Some point to Mayor Lionel Rivera and council. Others focus on the City Manager Lorne Kramer and staff.

All share the blame. Not because the Cimarron Bridge developed major structural problems. Not because intelligent engineers failed to foresee how the demolition and replacement of the Bijou interchange would disrupt the Colorado Avenue bridge (now with only one westbound lane).

Nobody imagined this perfect storm of mistakes, surprises and unforeseen troubles would mean thousands of drivers being able to use only five of 12 lanes (counting Cimarron, Colorado and Bijou) west of downtown for such a long, damaging period.

Each of those situations, analyzed separately, might be excusable.

The ridiculous part is how, amid this growing snowball of crises now threatening the very stability of downtown, nobody is being strongly proactive.

It's sad. Especially with no short-term fixes, such as using cones and cops to create two outgoing lanes on Colorado Avenue every weekday afternoon.

The worst chapter has been Cimarron Bridge. Initially, the city budgeted replacement costs at $8 million. But after spending $2 million when structural problems came to light, that left "only" $6 million to finish the job.

Rockrimmon Constructors, handling the COSMIX project, was willing and able to attack the Cimarron Bridge and have four lanes operational later this year along with the Bijou interchange. Instead, now the city says Rockrimmon wanted $1 million-plus beyond what was budgeted.

So the job is going out to bid, with no certainty of a cheaper proposal. Months will pass, with nobody factoring how much the delay will cost not just in inconveniencing people, but draining sales-tax revenue and perhaps leading to more businesses shutting down.

What could the city do? Go to Rockrimmon Constructors with an offer: Bring Bijou, Cimarron and Colorado back to 12 working lanes in time for the 2007 Christmas season, and the city would pay that extra cost, $1.5 million or even more. If it's not ready by Thanksgiving, that would cost Rockrimmon real money, perhaps $50,000 a week, or as much as $100,000.

That's motivation. But somebody has to make it happen quickly. Look beyond the immediate cost, realize how much this has impacted businesses and everyday people, and don't turn the other cheek. Free downtown parking for one Saturday in March (the latest meager offering) won't cut it. Free or much-reduced downtown garage parking until Bijou reopens, as one of our readers recently suggested, would be more like it.

This isn't about being patient and resilient anymore. This is about battling a nasty problem. Time is wasting away. From this point forward, the Colorado Springs city government should consider itself officially on the clock.

And accountable.

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