U.S. 24 faces long journey 

Take a look at plans for U.S. Highway 24, going west from Interstate 25 to the mountains, and you'll see some positive possibilities for the future.

Having interchanges instead of clogged intersections at Eighth and 21st streets will be a godsend for residents, as well as travelers and businesses. Expanding to three lanes on both sides of U.S. 24 from I-25 west to beyond 31st Street would handle the crush of busy hours and summer months. The highway already carries more than 50,000 cars on a typical days, and that number will grow in years to come.

Planning already has been extensive, despite a timetable demanding patience from all concerned. The estimated $240 million project for the 4.5-mile stretch of U.S. 24 that's $5.3 million per mile for the highway alone must go through initial approval (hoped for in 2009), funding commitments (about 2012) and finally construction (if all goes well, perhaps 2014 to 2017). In other words, your third-grader will be in college when it's finished.

Before plans check them online at http://www.dot.state.co.us/US24W/ go too much further, though, several problems must be tackled and overcome.

First, the prehistoric interchange of Cimarron and I-25. Amid all the money and years spent on improving the freeway, the Cimarron/U.S. 24 exit was lost in the shuffle. Now, we're told, there are plans but no money for rebuilding that interchange, which probably means 10 more years of worsening backups and bottlenecks for drivers going to the west side and/or the mountains.

Current plans resemble the current I-25 exit at Garden of the Gods Road. Too bad, because the Cimarron exit should have ramps depositing traffic from both sides of I-25 onto Cimarron/U.S. 24 without piling up at stoplights.

Another main problem is The Glut that 100-yard strip of hell on 31st Street, framed by its intersections with U.S. 24 and Colorado Avenue. It's bad already at rush hours, and crazier with summer tourism traffic. The state has committed more than $8 million to redesign U.S. 24 with a flood-alleviating greenway along Fountain Creek, which would include nice paths for hiking and biking. Yet no plans so far address The Glut, arguably the worst problem affecting U.S. 24 drivers year-round.

Here are two options: The first seems "pie in the sky," but not compared to the overall concepts. U.S. 24 could pass over The Glut with an interchange providing exits onto both 31st and 30th streets. (Also, 30th would require a short new extension connecting to the current stoplight at 30th and Colorado.)

By doing that, and making 26th Street go over U.S. 24 with on-ramps but no off-ramps (a trade for the interchange at 30th and 31st), the project would achieve something else no stoplights on U.S. 24 from I-25 to Manitou's Cave of the Winds, which is metered to change only for cross-traffic anyway.

The second option would be forcing drivers bound for the west side on U.S. 24 to get off at 30th instead of 31st, while cars leaving eastbound U.S. 24 would be able to exit at 31st. That way, The Glut would not be so overloaded.

Admittedly, it's easier to draw up than to explain in words for anyone who doesn't know that area. But this is every bit as big a deal out west as fixing Austin Bluffs-Union and Powers-Woodmen across town.

Another issue is the new idea for Ridge Road, now best-known as the place to get off U.S. 24 and park to hike Red Rock Canyon. Latest plans make that intersection an overpass, which is fine, but without entry and exit ramps on or off U.S. 24, which is not fine. The latest alternative is to force all traffic for Red Rock Canyon and the adjacent neighborhood through a stoplight at Colorado Avenue and 36th Street.

That doesn't make sense, and planners should take a legitimate poll of Red Rock Canyon visitors on any weekend, plus the area's residents, instead of relying on input from a few as the Westside Pioneer discovered. Why not let Ridge Road go over or under the busy highway, removing the danger of crossing it?

U.S. 24 has a chance to be worth the wait, creating an attractive "entryway" for Colorado Springs and for travelers using the highway as their path to Manitou, Pikes Peak and beyond. There's still plenty of time to do this right unlike U.S. 24 on the other end of the city, the infamous "highway to nowhere."

That cannot happen on the west side. Because, as we know all too well, everyone will have to live with it for decades to come.



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