Change is coming to West Colorado Avenue

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Not much has changed in the Westside’s transportation system since Interstate 25 and Midland Expressway were constructed in the decades between 1955 and 1975.

Those two limited-access highways diverted tourist and commuter traffic from city streets such as Nevada and Colorado avenues, leaving neighborhood roadway alignments alone. Except for minor engineering and flood control tweaks, much of West Colorado Avenue has been left alone — or ignored.

Colorado Avenue, originally called Huerfano, was one of the city’s most important streets. It connected Colorado Springs with Colorado City, Manitou Springs and the lightly populated mountain communities farther to the west.

It paralleled the route of the Midland Railway, and hosted W.S. Stratton’s trolley cars. In the 1880s, Colorado City resident Prairie Dog O’Byrne trained a team of elk to harness (the legendary Thunder and Buttons) and drove them to Colorado Springs, accompanied by Colorado City Madam Laura Belle McDaniel.

According to O’Byrne’s lighthearted autobiography, the team of elk spooked every horse-drawn conveyance in Palmer’s sedate little village.

Colorado Avenue still might be lively and fun, but much of the old “Ave” has suffered from decades of neglect. That’s particularly true of the 1.5-mile stretch between 31st Street and the U.S. Highway 24 interchange, most of which is often referred to as “No Man’s Land.”

Given that Old Colorado City and Manitou include national historic districts, and many businesses depend upon the tourist trade, why is the street surface in such a deteriorated state?

One reason is that maintenance money has been diverted by the Colorado Department of Transportation from Colorado Avenue to Midland Expressway (U.S. 24), and another factor has to do with the area’s fragmented governance.

 It was a regionally funded solution to a regional problem, taking politicians off the hook.

Parts of the land along the corridor are located in Colorado Springs, parts in unincorporated El Paso County and some in Manitou Springs. To make things worse, the state (CDOT) is responsible for street maintenance, since the thoroughfare has long been designated as U.S. 24’s business route. For decades, the governments refused to cooperate and fix the problems.

In 2012, the four governments nevertheless joined together to launch the Westside Avenue Action Plan. They didn’t all suddenly get religion — they were inspired to take action by fed-up business owners and corridor residents. But funding the plan depended on a new player. 

When El Paso County voters overwhelmingly voted in November 2012 to approve the 10-year extension of capital improvement funding for the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (PPRTA) from 2015 through 2024, the project list included $12.5 million earmarked for upgrades in No Man’s Land.

It was a regionally funded solution to a regional problem, inspiring the four entities — Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, El Paso County and the state — to work even more toward a solution.

CDOT kicked in $300,000 to fund the WAAP planning process, which has slowly played out since 2012. Additional grants totaling $900,000 from other sources will complete the process. Plans have been created, presented to stakeholders, revised, reimagined and now are close to realization.

The new avenue will have three lanes, including a center turn lane and bike lanes on either side. New sidewalks will be at least 5 feet wide, the Midland Trail will be extended west from Ridge Road, and a new bridge will be built over Fountain Creek at Columbia Road. The 1934 bridge will remain in place until the new one is built, obviating the need for a detour through residential districts during construction.

PPRTA construction funds won’t be available until early 2015. However, $2.6 million will come from CDOT through the right-of-way transfer.

“We expect that the transfer will happen later this summer,” said County Commissioner Sallie Clark, who has wrestled with the problems of No Man’s Land for more than a decade. Clark confirmed the county will eventually cede governance to Manitou and Colorado Springs.

“We expect that the two cities will work together to determine who takes what,” said Clark. “The county will get out of the business of the road.”

Since minor changes have been made in road alignment, some property acquisition will be necessary. That process should begin this fall and be completed by next summer. Absent unforeseen obstacles, construction should start in September 2015 and be completed by December 2016.

If all goes well, it will be a shining example of regional cooperation and will positively impact a significant travel corridor.

“This section of West Colorado Avenue/Manitou Avenue has deteriorated to the point that local tourism officials believe it is a detriment to business,” the original WAAP proposal noted, saying the entities view it “as a catalyst for economic revitalization … while continuing to support the vibrant tourism industry.”

As far as Westsiders are concerned, it can’t come too soon. nCSBJ

One Response to Change is coming to West Colorado Avenue

  1. Like it or not, as much as the City continues to grow eastward onto the prairie and City government proposes downtown improvements the fact remains the west side of town is the entrance into Old Colorado Springs, Manitou and the Rockies and is where community development is going to be the most productive. Nobody wants to visit tract homes, shopping malls and high traffic areas like Powers.

    Steven Shepard
    July 14, 2014 at 7:39 pm