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MLK Interstate: Freeway of dreams

click to enlarge Peter Dunn
  • Peter Dunn

Shortly after moving to Colorado Springs in 1982, I began to wonder how travelers and truckers found their way from the western end of Highway 24 to the eastern end of Highway 24.

After living 17 years in California, I had never seen an "interstate" that wandered through potholed, narrow, residential streets following a few, small, obscure continuation signs.

In June 2000 while researching history of the Bijou Street Bridge, I discovered that in 1889, one year after completion of the first Colorado Avenue viaduct, the aldermen of the City Council took public discussion as to whether a second bridge over Monument Creek should be built at Platte Avenue, crossing two railroad tracks (estimated cost $7,600), or Bijou Street, crossing 7 railroad tracks ($6,300), or Kiowa Street, crossing 8 railroad tracks ($6,470). The decision was based on cost, and the first Bijou viaduct was completed in 1891.

Discussions of an "east-west freeway" heated up in the early 1950s, including outcries from trucking associations. In October 1956, Wilbur Smith Associates, a national traffic-engineering firm from New Haven, Conn., completed a contracted 20-year Master Traffic Plan for the city of Colorado Springs.

The firm proposed, among other things, elimination of parking on Platte and a major diagonal from Platte Avenue directly to the Bijou bridge, then curving through the old West Side to connect with Cimarron at approximately Eighth Street for both continuing southbound and westbound traffic.

Also suggested was that "the east-west freeway should generally follow the old Midland Terminal railroad right of way," but this connection did not appear on the map published in the Oct. 14, 1956 Gazette Telegraph.

The Monument Valley Highway (now Interstate 25) was completed in 1959, and The Master Traffic Plan was never fully adopted by the city.

Since completion of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Bypass -- a formal detour petering into residential streets -- and since City Council's adoption of a pacifist view toward old neighborhoods, discussion of the east-west "corridor" has basically died.

To me, there is only one obvious solution for the future of the east-west interstate. There are so many obvious reasons, I do not understand why the city simply does not adopt the only logical and inevitable plan.

There is only one way west out of Colorado Springs -- which is Highway 24 through Ute Pass. Highway 24 continues to experience higher and higher levels of traffic on a daily basis. The only other option is Rampart Range Road, which is only passable by some kind of all-terrain vehicle that has not yet been invented.

If east-west traffic does not connect on the west side at the Highway 24/Interstate 25 interchange, then future highway maintenance costs will be doubled or tripled on those sections of I-25 that have to be driven over by both east-west, north-south and cross-city traffic.

Confluence Park is going to need major interchanges to feed a nearby convention center, possible baseball stadium, art district, permanent farmers' market, revived downtown mall, high-rise lofts, high-density apartment developments, etc.

Traffic that is not stopping in downtown needs to be moved directly through without adding to traffic volumes on I-25. Truckers need clear lanes without a lot of stoplights.

Any major east-west interstate needs to connect on the east side with Powers Boulevard, as the major north-south artery to East Side neighborhoods and businesses, as well as the eastern end of Highway 24.

Now also consider that Prospect Lake is causing increasingly costly engineering problems in terms of retaining water, to which there is no sure solution.

The obvious route for the east-west interstate, going from west to east, is widening of Cimarron through downtown, bridging straight across the valley to a Cimarron Street continuation, paving over the south end of Prospect Lake, continuing out Airport Road (causing minimal disruption to residential neighborhoods of any possible east-west route), continuing along the south side of Sand Creek, and connecting directly to eastbound Highway 24 with a cloverleaf at Powers and Platte.

Peter Dunn is a medical transcriptionist, who, while not necessarily focused on pushing the envelope, enjoys thinking independently.


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