Bottlenecks, tailgaters and congestion – Traffic the main headache

Filed under: Opinion |

Dear Editor,

I’d like to echo and expand upon Mr. Matejczyk’s comments in the 25 June issue of the CSBJ about the proposal to place a Wal-Mart Supercenter on Baptist Road.

I, too, am concerned about the increased traffic that a Wal-Mart at that location is bound to bring. Even Wayne Williams, the commissioner for District 1 that includes the property under scrutiny, mentioned in a recent community meeting that the traffic issues for this proposal are his most important concern. He has plenty of reason to be worried.

First, the primary traffic study he and his fellow commissioners refer to is the one that Wal-Mart commissioned. The main “facts” available to them on the proposal are those that Wal-Mart derived. Wouldn’t any reasonable person be just a little skeptical about the results? It’s a classic example of conflicting interests. An informal analysis conducted by a skilled member of the Coalition of Tri-Lakes Communities revealed a number of convenient omissions of data from the Wal-Mart study. It’s interesting to note that each of those omitted items would have been to Wal-Mart’s detriment. Those points were brought to the attention of the County Planning Commission, who subsequently disapproved the rezoning proposal 7 to 1. The lone dissenting planning commissioner, incidentally, was Dennis Hisey, who is running for the District 4 County Commission seat being vacated by Jeri Howells this coming November. Hisey has the backing of powerful interests partial to development.

Second, neither Wal-Mart nor the county commissioners can do a thing about changing the intersection of Baptist Road and Interstate 25. That’s the key bottleneck in the traffic flow on Baptist Road, and it is completely under the control of the Colorado Department of Transportation. CDOT representatives have stated that improving the intersection isn’t even on their planning horizon before 2010 due to higher priority projects and tight funding. A cynic might see an opportunity in this. If the traffic on Baptist Road were to explode overnight, lots of things will happen: emergency vehicles (and the services they provide) would be delayed; accidents will increase; people will complain to CDOT; and we might even have some deaths due to traffic problems. Would that get noticed by CDOT? Would the I-25 / Baptist Road intersection be raised on CDOT’s list of priorities? And the cynic would offer: “Are El Paso County and its commissioners protected from liability due to these problems?” I wish this scenario were only speculative and fanciful, but it’s not. This argument appears to be under serious consideration by some in county government. Gambling with resident safety to force action by CDOT? It’s an unthinkable, reprehensible concept, but it has traction at the El Paso County building.

Third, Wal-Mart has proposed a right in, right out traffic flow for cars exiting onto Baptist Road from the adjacent Family of Christ Lutheran Church and houses to the east. Because the property isn’t big enough to adequately house a 203,000-square-foot store, Wal-Mart removed from its design a road along the south edge of the property to provide access to the church and the houses. With their “updated” plan, members of the three congregations that meet at the church and those attending classes, Jazzercise lessons, and parents whose children attend the church’s daycare center are expected to make a U-turn at Leather Chaps Road in order to head west toward I-25.

There are many other problems with this proposal from a land use standpoint:

* Inadequate light and noise buffering for adjacent properties

* High visibility from almost any vantage point

* Steep slopes directly adjacent to the church’s daycare play area

* Inadequate water detention area

* Unchecked runoff of hazardous materials directly into Jackson Creek

* Undersized sidewalks and use of easement areas due to space limitations

* Unabashed disregard for various standing comprehensive and policy plans

” Clear abuse of the intended use of Planned Unit Development (PUD) zoning

* Use of a private “Public Improvement Corp.,” not accountable to voters, to shift funding of infrastructure improvements to patrons

* Traffic restrictions placed on competing stores (Foxworth-Galbraith, to name one) that limit customer access.

Wayne Williams stated during the community meeting that the county commissioners are required to focus only on the proposal at hand, that they “can’t” reward one party over another. That’s disingenuous at best. Our commissioners do this every day. If the Baptist Road property is rezoned, Wal-Mart, those property owners, School District 20, Donald Westcott Fire Protection district – all win, and it’s at the expense of the Town of Monument, School District 38, and so forth.

The commissioners also say they “can’t” concern themselves with Wal-Mart’s reputation, its impact on local business, its current backlog of 9,400 pending lawsuits, its recent judgments for violations of environmental and equal employment laws, its continual withdrawal of currency from the local community, or its disdain for local residents and the community in which they live. That’s incredibly myopic. Each of us in the Gleneagle, Jackson Creek, Kingswood, Pleasant View, Fox Run, High Meadow, Higby Estates, Sun Hills, Chaparral Hills, Fox Pines, Bent Tree, Forest Heights and other neighborhoods will have to live with the impact of these issues every day if Wal-Mart moves into our community.

It’s incumbent upon each of the commissioners to thoughtfully consider these “intangibles” along with the other factors presented to them. To do otherwise borders on malfeasance.

Tim Hibbs