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Keep on trucking 

It's like Powers Boulevard is the most important road in Colorado Springs, or El Paso County, or even along the whole Front Range.

Perhaps it is, and that's why the city is clinging to the idea of getting the road extended to Interstate 25, via tax money from a shopping center on the city's far north side.

Talking this week by phone, city budget manager Lisa Bigelow was effusive about the city's undying commitment to finish Powers — even without the county's help.

Last week, the project known as Copper Ridge got a kick in the knees when county commissioners refused to funnel county sales tax money to help fund its $80 million to $120 million, 4.5-mile extension of Powers from Colorado Highway 83 to the freeway.

In voting it down, commissioners cited a state law that bars counties from using general fund money on roads and bridges. They also worried aloud that Copper Ridge, with 2.8 million square feet, would cannibalize other shopping districts and cause the county to collect less sales tax money, instead of more, as it ponies up $1.5 million a year for 25 years for Powers.

Now that the county has folded its cards, the city is hoping the state will deal itself in by passing House Bill 1220, which would allow half of the state's sales tax in given areas to be dedicated to transportation projects for 15 years. The bill has passed the House, with all El Paso County lawmakers backing it except lone Democrat Pete Lee.

"It was taking a lot of money for a long period of time out of the general fund, and right now we desperately need money in the general fund for education," Lee says. "The commitment I made to my constituents was I would try to focus on keeping money in the education system." Which, by the way, already has taken a $375 million hit this year.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, where a hearing is set for Monday. Senate Majority Leader John Morse says he's not sure what will happen to the bill in the Senate, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 20 to 15.

High-end or the end

Although county commissioners said they'd been told county money was crucial, the city now sings a different tune.

"It's important to note, we never said the project wouldn't move forward without the county," says Bigelow. "We said their contribution was important, and obviously, it will make it more difficult [without it]." But now the city is "reviewing numbers and other options," she says, among them the House bill.

"We thought this project could be a perfect opportunity for that legislation," Bigelow says. That's because the city sees Copper Ridge as the answer to its "leakage" woes — that is, local shoppers fleeing to tantalizing points north, such as Park Meadows in south Denver.

Asked if the city was concerned that the county's consultant reported only 9 percent "leakage," and the prospect of a net loss rather than net gain in sales tax money, Bigelow says, "You can pull in 10 different consultants and they'll have 10 different outcomes. We haven't been given a copy of the report to respond to any of their assumptions or outcomes." Later, she notes, "Our analysis shows this is a net gain for the city."

Copper Ridge developer Gary Erickson and project partner Kevin Hawkins talked up a "high-end" retailer last year to persuade the city to declare 200 undeveloped acres southeast of I-25 and North Gate Boulevard as blighted under urban renewal rules. The designation allows the city to forward all property tax money and the city's sales tax money from that area for infrastructure; in this case, to build Powers.

Though the county doubted that Erickson had lined up a retailer like Nordstrom or Cabela's, as previously mentioned, the city doesn't really care, Bigelow says. "If this doesn't materialize, we're not out anything," she notes. "This is totally performance-based."

Under the Council-approved agreement, Erickson must have secured a "destination" anchor store — one that draws shoppers from outside the area as well as other unique shops — before city money and property taxes are placed in escrow for the road.

Erickson didn't return a phone call seeking comment for this story.

Powers grab

That Powers extension is important for a couple reasons, Bigelow says. The annexation agreement for the land, which dates to the 1980s, states the developer — Erickson, at the moment — must donate the Powers right of way only until 2018. After that, it reverts to the developer, and whoever builds the road would have to purchase the property.

Second, Bigelow says Powers is a regional transportation corridor, providing access to the Colorado Springs Airport and military installations out east. Also, the extension could prove handy if an I-25 tie-up requires rerouting traffic.

But not everyone sees it as pivotal.

"I think it's moderately important when you look at the other needs we have," County Commissioner Sallie Clark says.

More important are the Powers interchange at Peterson Air Force Base; the I-25 and U.S. Highway 24 interchange (Cimarron Street); and the widening of I-25 north of Academy Boulevard, according to a 2008 list of "strategic corridor projects" from the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments board.

Also, the Powers and I-25 interchange would lack a westbound-to-southbound movement, meaning westbound drivers on Powers (which would run east-west for a couple miles before resuming its north-south path) would have to catch Voyager Parkway to North Gate Boulevard to get onto I-25 heading south.

zubeck@csindy.com

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