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Gazette Premium Content Study proposes total makeover of 6 miles of Academy Boulevard

DEBBIE KELLEY Updated: January 26, 2011 at 12:00 am

A six-mile chunk of what once was the city’s major retail and commercial district needs an infusion of pedestrian and bicycle pathways, a streetcar route and express bus lane, buried power lines, attractive landscaping, easier access to businesses and neighborhoods, and a lower speed limit.

Those are among the findings of a 12-month study of ways to revitalize Academy Boulevard between Maizeland and Drennan roads.

“We’re going to work really hard to make sure this is a jewel in Colorado Springs. It’s been neglected, and we, as a city, need to put some investments in the corridor so the business community can buy into it,” Mayor Lionel Rivera said Wednesday, at the final public meeting of the Academy Boulevard Corridor Great Streets project.  

The total cost is unknown, but likely would top hundreds of millions of dollars, and there would be other hurdles, such as zoning and other regulatory changes and environmental impact studies.

Many lauded the visionary project, which Rivera launched in 2007 after getting complaints about the deteriorating business climate and high vacancy rate in shopping centers along the strip.

“This is the first time the city has looked at both land use and transportation use at the same time,” said Dave Munger, president of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations and a mayoral candidate.

The plans take into account how redevelopment will benefit adjacent neighborhoods and how the nearby residents can help sustain the businesses, Munger said.

If the large-scale plans come to fruition, the population and workers in the area would nearly double in 25 years; 30,000 residents currently live within a half-mile radius of the corridor, and 20,000 are employed in the corridor, said Carl Schueler, a senior planner for the city of Colorado Springs who is serving as project manager.

“Academy Boulevard needs to be a destination where people want to be, and not just a road,” he said.

Not everyone is buying into the project, though. Public attendees voiced a fair amount of skepticism about whether the project is feasible, given the high price tag. They also questioned why businesses and residents would want to return to an area so many have left.

Al Brody, co-chairman of Bike Colorado Springs and a member of a group called Safe Routes to School, said he had misgivings about the overall project and wondered why it doesn’t continue south of Drennan Road to Interstate 25, to benefit Fort Carson.

“To me, if you’re going to work a corridor, take it from end to end, and there’s federal funding to improve roads outside a military base,” he said.

Schueler said the target area ends at Drennan because Academy Boulevard is under county jurisdiction at that point.

Developing cost estimates is part of the group’s next step. But there are some ballpark numbers. For example, a streetcar system would cost $15 million to $20 million per mile, said Holly Buck, a member of the project team. And rapid bus lines would run $1 million to $5 million per mile, she said.

“We’re talking about a lot of money,” Schueler acknowledged, “and it will need to be done in phases.”

Potential funding sources include federal transit grants, forming special tax districts, financial support from businesses and developers, a city utilities fund for burying the power lines, and leveraging some of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority’s sales and use tax, which is up for reauthorization in a few years.  

Rivera said he’s optimistic the project will happen.

“South Academy needs major reconstruction, I think citizens will support it,” he said.

The project team will prioritize the recommendations, attach financial figures and funding possibilities, and present it all to City Council in April, Schueler said.

The $300,000 study, conducted by the City of Colorado Springs and Mountain Metropolitan Transit, is being funded by a grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

For more information, go to www.AcademyBlvdGreatStreets.com.

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