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Visions from the past 

Two weeks from now, Colorado Springs will "celebrate" the rebirth of Bijou Street, reconnecting downtown to Interstate 25 after nine months of closure and major inconvenience.

Political leaders will hail the new and improved I-25 section, including the Bijou exit, as the dawn of a new era for downtown. Meanwhile, business owners who have suffered through a bad year will hope those predictions come true, despite all of downtown's vacant storefronts even along Tejon Street.

We're not done with the hassles. Now we hear that because COSMIX crews have focused on finishing the I-25/Bijou portion, with its on-off ramps, extra lanes and cosmetic details, the nearby work above Colorado Avenue will continue until perhaps Thanksgiving. That means Colorado will continue to provide only one westbound lane out of downtown for the afternoon rush hour, well after the planned complete shutdown of Cimarron Bridge for its rebuild.

As thousands of us have continued to cope with those realities, some have blamed the troubles on lack of vision years ago by city and regional leaders.

In fact, that couldn't be further from the truth, as one 32-page document confirms. It's called "State Highway Improvement Requests 1974," submitted 33 years ago to the state by the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, which was and is responsible for transportation planning and prioritizing.

It's absolutely fascinating because it lays out exactly what the area needed, then and in the decades since. Let's go through most of the list.

Powers Boulevard: This was the "top priority concern," and the concept was brilliant for that time obtain right-of-way before growth reached Powers and create an east-side expressway with interchanges for major streets, hooking up with I-25 north and south of the Springs. The proposal had full support of the city and county by 1973. Yet, it never happened.

I-25/Cimarron: As it had done in 1973, PPACG approved plans for a full cloverleaf interchange, calling it "imperative ... based on the anticipated growth of the community." The cloverleaf (meaning no left turns for any traffic leaving or entering I-25 from any direction) wasn't yet funded and for some reason, it never was. The exit is basically the same now as in 1974, with no firm plans for rebuilding.

I-25/Nevada: This was given "Priority 1" status, in hopes of fixing the "confusing, unusual and dangerous" situation of a left-lane exit off southbound I-25. That issue finally was overcome in 2007.

Widening I-25: Go ahead, laugh (or cry in your beer). In 1974, this area asked the state to widen I-25 from four to six lanes ... from Fort Carson to the Douglas County line, because "traffic loads along I-25 have steadily increased over the past several years." That idea wasn't tackled for practically a quarter-century, and even now, nothing has been done from North Academy Boulevard to Monument.

U.S. 24: In 1974, PPACG requested interchanges at Eighth, 21st and 31st streets to handle "extensive developments planned" in that area. Plans are emerging in 2007, but opponents say they are based on exaggerated traffic projections.

Falcon to I-25: Long before Chapel Hills and Briargate, planners thought of a road that surely would have been four lanes from Falcon to I-25 (the path of Woodmen Road). The reason, provided in 1974, was that "no east-west route now exists north of U.S. 24." No duh. Woodmen is finally coming along now.

Mount Herman Road: This would've been a new road, going west from I-25 out of Monument, over the hills and onward to Woodland Park, creating a shortcut/bypass and relieving traffic on U.S. 24. It never got off the drawing board.

I-25 bypass: No, not the Powers expressway. PPACG asked for a study of a full interstate bypass to "enable motorists not destined to Colorado Springs to avoid the heavily traveled section of I-25 near downtown ... and might also provide better access to the east side." Instead, nothing.

Imagine all that. Even just most of it. How many millions could've been saved by doing those projects in the 1970s and '80s? How much easier might it have been for commuters and travelers today, trying to maneuver in and around the city?

Instead, hardly anything happened with that visionary roadmap laid out in 1974. And we're still paying the price, now and forever.

routon@csindy.com

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