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South Powers Blvd: boom or ruin? 

click to enlarge Rancher Ann Hann a point to the part of her family's ranch that would be crossed by the proposed highway. - SCOTT LARRICK
  • Scott Larrick
  • Rancher Ann Hann a point to the part of her family's ranch that would be crossed by the proposed highway.

With state funding for the southern extension of Powers Boulevard now in place, the battle over where the proposed bypass should go is heating up in the rural regions south of Fountain.

The most visible sign of opposition to the planned roadway can be seen along county roads in the unincorporated parts of El Paso County: posters nailed to fence posts that show a slash through the word "Powers."

The proposed path of the roughly 15-mile extension would connect Powers Boulevard to Interstate 25 between Mesa Ridge Parkway, south of Fountain, and a freeway exit just north of the Pikes Peak International Raceway south of Colorado Springs.

While the project is embraced by some large landowners who intend to develop property along the proposed route, others vehemently oppose the extension, saying the roadway is unnecessary and would ruin the rural community south of Fountain.

Long on the drawing boards of local planners, the road is envisioned to serve as an eastern alternate to I-25 and accommodate future growth on the eastern edges of Fountain and Colorado Springs.


The virtual highway

But opponents of the proposal wonder why transportation officials are pushing for an expressway in an area where most of the roads are still unpaved, and the only traffic is an occasional herd of cows, deer or antelope.

"I don't think there's a need for the road," said Jay Frost, a rancher who owns land southeast of the racetrack on I-25.

To Frost, the new Powers bypass will promote sprawl and traffic, not mitigate traffic problems. "We need to come up with solutions other than just another road project," he said.

Planners with the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, which is coordinating the project with the Colorado Department of Transportation and El Paso County, concede the road may not be needed now.

But they say in 10 to 20 years, when the eastern limits of Colorado Springs and Fountain are filled with new subdivisions and businesses, the Powers Boulevard southern extension will be full of commuters, truckers and others looking for an eastern alternative to I-25.

"This project is important regionally from the perspective of planning for the future," said Mark Mehalko, project planner for URS Greiner, Woodward, Clyde, the consulting firm engineering the new route.

Initially, he said, the road would be built as a two-lane highway. But over time, he said, Powers Boulevard would be expanded to an expressway with exit ramps and no traffic lights. "This will become a true alternative to I-25 on the eastern edge," he said.


Trickledown effect

So far, $39 million has been allocated to the south Powers extension, said Andy Garton, project manager for the Powers Boulevard project for the State Department of Transportation.

That money is part of a larger $220 million sum allocated by the state to complete a northern extension of Powers Boulevard, as well as another connection to I-25 at Mesa Springs Road. In a separate project, El Paso County is set to begin work this year on a portion of Powers Boulevard that connects Fontaine Boulevard with Mesa Ridge Parkway.

Mahelko said most affected landowners "generally agree" with the proposed route for the future expressway. Indeed, some landowners want the highway because it would make their property more desirable for development.

The vast JV Ranch, for example, just southeast of Fountain, is owned by the family of the late John Venezia, who developed much of what is now known as Briargate, a massive series of subdivisions on the city's northern edge.

The family reportedly wants to develop its southern property along the proposed south Powers extension. However, family spokeswoman Sheila Venezia did not return several phone calls from the Independent seeking comment.

Others who live next to what would be the highway are less supportive. "It would divide the landscape like a giant canyon," said Rex Miller, a resident of Old Pueblo Road, who lives about a half mile from the planned new route.

To Miller, the proposed freeway is just another trickledown effect of bad planning and uncontrolled growth in cities to the north.

Officials from Colorado Springs and Fountain, not the rural landowners, want the parkway, he said. "The city of Fountain wants this parkway, so let them have it," he said, noting that the road should be directed through Fountain, well north of his quiet, creek-side community.


Where are the people?

Meanwhile, others note that many landowners don't want to develop and that state, city and nearby federal property -- like Fort Carson -- means the area will stay relatively unpopulated.

Standing along Birdsall Road, a washboard dirt road that runs along the north edge of her family's ranch, Ann Hanna points to the part of the ranch that would be crossed by the proposed highway.

Like her late husband, Kirk Hanna, she opposes the project. But she said other family members who co-own the ranch, originally purchased by her late husband's father in the 1950s, are open to the project.

"I don't see why we need a road out here," she said, looking out into a prairie filled only with fences and utility lines. "Where are all the people who supposedly need this road?"

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