City narrows options for rapid-transit system

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During a public meeting last week, the City of Colorado Springs narrowed its list of potential rapid-transit corridors from 22 to nine, with six major connecting systems. And although construction could begin within four years if funding is received from the U.S. Department of Transportation, those involved with the project say rapid transit is a 10- to 12-year effort.

The city’s Rapid Transit Division commissioned a study of heavily traveled corridors to determine if an enhanced transit system would benefit the long-term mobility needs of the community. The preliminary findings were made public in November.

Parsons Transportation Group will spend the next nine months completing the study, which will include an environmental analysis, implementation recommendations, and community input.

The nine corridors are:

* Academy Boulevard;

* Nevada Avenue;

* Cimarron Street/U.S. 24 to Manitou Springs;

* Platte Avenue;

* Fountain Boulevard/U.S. 24 bypass;

* Interstate 25;

* Garden of the Gods Road/Austin Bluffs Parkway;

* Union Boulevard; and

* Woodmen Road

The six interconnected systems discussed during the meeting will be evaluated based upon the ease/difficulty of building and physical constraints, the cost of implementation, ridership estimates and environmental criteria.

Phillip Hoffman, vice president and senior project manager of Parsons Transportation Group, said physical constraints include topography, grade, barriers such as river crossings and major roadways. The environmental criteria include neighborhood character, property acquisitions, noise vibration, historical/cultural components, traffic and safety, parks, habitat and water, he said.

The city is considering four rapid-transit systems:

n Commuter rail – a locomotive that pulls cars, usually between cities.

n Light rail – small intra-city electric trains, similar to those in use in Denver.

n Diesel multiple routes – similar to light rail, but diesel powered.

n Bus – exclusive corridors that allow buses to run faster than traffic

Sherre Ritenour, the city’s transit services manager, said a rapid-transit system could be used to enhance or replace the current bus system, which often is criticized for being slow and inefficient. Rapid transit would be the final part of a three-tiered plan that includes a revamping of the central hub system and express buses, she said.

While the time frame may seem far off, and there are many hurdles to overcome, area businesses say that a rapid-transit system could only help their bottom lines.

Keith Baker, general manager of Grand West Outfitters, which is along the proposed Academy Boulevard route, said a rapid-transit system would be great for the store’s business “because the traffic signals around here are not synchronized.

“It would make this area more shopper friendly,” he said. “People use such systems in Europe with skis and bikes with no problems. Rapid transit could include external or internal racks to accommodate the equipment we sell.”

Baker said the system also would benefit the environment, if enough residents could be persuaded to use it. “In order for it to work, the community has to commit to it, and it has to be very extensive,” he said. “It would have to really penetrate our community.”

Bob Taylor, senior property manager at The Citadel, said a rapid-transit system would help shoppers and employees get to and from the mall. “Retailers could only benefit from increased ease of traffic,” he said. “We get a lot of bus traffic at the west side of The Citadel. We have very few problems with those customers.”

The mall sits along the Academy Boulevard and Platte Avenue corridors.

The city’s final public forum to discuss the plan is scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. June 15.