PPRTA list focuses on outlying areas, not downtown

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“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes…

— Arthur Conan Doyle, Silver Blaze

Starting with that simple piece of deductive reasoning, Sherlock Holmes unraveled the puzzling case of Silver Blaze, a famous racehorse that had disappeared from his stable on the eve of an important race.

Holmes would have had little difficulty in dissecting and understanding the proposed 10-year project list that will be presented to voters by the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority this November. The rest of us, like the earnest but dimwitted Dr. Watson, may need a little help.

PPRTA’s “A” list includes 77 projects in Colorado Springs and El Paso County with a total cost of $285 million. If voters approve extending the 1-cent sales tax that funds the regional body, those projects will be first on the list starting in 2014.

Actually, $285 million is only 75 percent of estimated PPRTA tax collections during the 10-year extension, so there’s a good chance that all of the A- list projects would be funded, as well as a few from the “B” list.

The project list essentially omits downtown Colorado Springs. Over the entire period, downtown gets only the prorated portion of the $8.66 million to be spent rebuilding Pikes Peak Avenue between Colorado Avenue and Printers Parkway. That’s about $2 million, less than 1 percent of the A-list budget.

Not much, when you consider that Mayor Steve Bach and a majority of City Council support a downtown renaissance. You’d think that elected officials, downtown business owners, residents and boosters would have generated plenty of ideas for consideration, especially since 53 of the 77 approved projects were selected from Colorado Springs’ list.

Apparently, that dog didn’t bark.

By contrast, downtown Manitou Springs garnered $1.7 million for drainage, sidewalks, utilities and pedestrian improvements.

Eighteen Colorado Springs bridge projects made the top-priority list, with an aggregate price tag of $48.8 million. Eight city paving projects will account for nearly $40 million, including $15.2 million to repave South Academy Boulevard between Fountain Boulevard and Milton Proby Parkway.

Other big-ticket city items include $14.9 million for upgrading traffic signals at 60 locations, $7 million for a “continuous flow” Woodmen-Union intersection, and $18 million for improvements to South Academy between Bradley Road and I-25.

Of the $285 million budget, more than 50 percent will be spent on infrastructure in the city’s post-1970 suburbs. Rickety bridges on South Circle Drive will be rehabilitated, while a newly rebuilt roadway will ease the lot of drivers bouncing along South Academy Boulevard.

Suburbs famously lack density. And Colorado Springs, with 425,000 residents in 194.1 square miles, is less dense than many stand-alone suburbs. Compare us to New York City, where 8.25 million people live in a land area of 304.8 square miles.

Hundreds of miles of arterial roadways and dozens of bridges link Springs residents to distant jobs, big-box stores and mountain getaways. As infrastructure deteriorates, repair and maintenance becomes ever more expensive, and ever more difficult to fund.

In the last funding cycle, much of PPRTA’s funding went to new construction. Tens of millions went to traffic-speeding separated grade intersections at Austin Bluffs/Academy and Woodmen/Union.

The 2014-2024 funding cycle will target repairing and maintaining existing infrastructure.

“We’re trying to focus more on the core,” said city transportation boss Kathleen Krager. “There’s very little funding for brand-new roadways, except for a few small connecting pieces.”

But what about downtown? Does it make sense to throw money at Circle and Academy, while ignoring downtown?

“We can’t just go back and bulldoze suburbs that were built 25 years ago,” Krager observed, “but we can plan more strategically.”

Such strategic planning led to downtown’s apparent exclusion from the “A” list.

The projects chosen, Krager explained, are funding orphans. Most are ineligible for federal or state matches, and many have languished for years.

Downtown is different.

“There are multiple potential sources for downtown projects,” she said. “The Parking Enterprise can undertake smaller projects, like building medians, and larger projects, like the Cimarron interchange, are eligible for state and/or federal funding.”

Absent PPRTA, funding for orphan roadways such as South Academy wouldn’t exist.

“When the recession hit, we wouldn’t have been able to do anything without PPRTA,” said Council President Pro-Tem Jan Martin. “It frees up the city budget a little; lets us find (federal and state) matching funds.”

Once approved by voters, the “A” list is set in stone. It can’t be materially changed or amended by elected officials. That’s fine with Martin.

“We have a track record,” said Martin, who serves as vice-chair of the PPRTA board. “I think that we’ll have completed all of the 2004-2014 A-list projects by next year, and that’s important to voters.”

Councilor Brandy Williams has another message for those who think we may be over-investing in areas such as South Academy.

“We need to work on places where we already have roads and utilities, police and fire,” Williams said, echoing Krager. “For better or worse, we’re serving those areas. We need to fix what we have. It’s already there, it’s in the city, it’s infill. And in the end it’s about jobs — if we have jobs, redevelopment will come. Heaven forbid that we run out of space for all the people!”