The racket over the proposed widening of Interstate 25 through Colorado Springs is about to get even noisier.
On April 27, the Colorado Springs City Council unanimously approved the widening project. And, in a victory for Friends of Monument Valley Park, a group lobbying for noise protection in the park and surrounding neighborhoods, the Council also asked the Colorado Department of Transportation to protect, as much as possible, these central areas of the city from eight lanes worth of future highway noise.
This victory, it seems, was short-lived.
At an April 29 meeting with representatives from the state Department of Transportation, Stephen Harris, the Colorado Springs environmental lawyer representing Friends of Monument Valley Park, asked the agency to consider using rubberized asphalt to pave 2.2 miles of Interstate 25 through downtown. Rubberized asphalt is a relatively new material made from recycled tires and has been shown to reduce highway noise by as much as 50 percent in areas of Arizona and Texas.
Residents living near Monument Valley Park and the North End neighborhoods have complained for several years about the increasing noise problems from a widening project conducted several years ago.
The DOT, Harris says, is unwilling even to consider testing this new material on I-25.
"There is a lot of institutional resistance to rubberized asphalt," Harris said. "[CDOT is] just not willing to work at all to address any of the neighborhood's concerns."
Harris and his clients maintain that the positive reports coming from the Arizona Department of Transportation and other testing areas, which include the agency's own test strips in Denver, should provide enough incentive to use it here.
"Look, this is a situation that is solvable," Harris said. "It should be a win-win situation."
Severe budget crunch
Agency representatives, however, are skeptical of rubberized asphalt, citing that the material has not been approved by the Federal Highway Administration. In addition, the section of I-25 next to Monument Valley Park has already recently been resurfaced.
"We have a severe budget crunch here," said Terry Schooler, the DOT's state transportation commissioner for Colorado Springs. "To go back and overlay new sections of highway at the expense of other projects -- I don't see where the win-win is."
Schooler argues that the agency is doing everything it can to mitigate the noise of the highway, while also trying to manage its funds prudently. The cost of using a rubberized asphalt overlay on the 2.2 mile section could range from $600,000 to $2 million.
Harris counters that $1 million dollars represents one-tenth of 1 percent of the total cost of the $500 million project to widen I-25 through the city.
"Our proposal is for a test strip, just to see if it works," Harris stated. "This should not hold up the highway improvements; it should just be incorporated into the project."
Noise levels bad
Chesley Miller, an administrative member of Friends of Monument Valley Park, says that the group is not opposed to the widening of the highway. They just want the best mitigation measures possible for the noise.
"The noise levels are so bad," Miller said, "that if I am walking in the park with a friend it can be hard to hear one another."
At present, the DOT's planned mitigation measures to combat noise in the park include 20-foot-tall noise barriers and earthen berms, which will be constructed between the park and the interstate.
The park group believes that rubberized asphalt may be able to take care of the problem without blocking a view of the park from the highway.
At least for now, the two sides remain in dialogue, with Vice-Mayor Richard Skorman and Rob McDonald of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments trying to find some middle ground.
"There are differing opinions on rubberized asphalt," McDonald said. "[But] it doesn't seem to make too much sense to spend millions of dollars on something that's not proven."
Skorman, however, notes that other states have been using it with positive results. He also realizes that the possibility exists for this dispute eventually to make it to the courts, which would be time consuming, expensive and disruptive to the widening project.
"I'm hoping that the two sides can work out a compromise -- I hate to see a lot of people unhappy," Skorman said. "Based on the amount of attention this has received, and the public outcry, I was hoping CDOT would be willing to do a test strip."
-- Benjamin Glahn