Head city engineer hits the road

DEBBIE KELLEY Updated: May 13, 2011 at 12:00 am • Published: May 13, 2011

Acting City Engineer Robin Kidder has heard it all. How this road construction will ruin a neighborhood. How that road project will decrease property values. How they all will inconvenience residents.

But eventually, Kidder said, after an intersection gets turn lanes or no longer floods, or a new bridge with bike lanes is erected, most of the naysayers come around. Some even offer “left-handed compliments.”

“One neighbor who had complained about the Austin Bluffs/Union interchange told me the traffic is quieter now than ever before because big trucks don’t have to stop, and she never expected that,” he said.

After nearly 25 years working as a proponent for the commuters of Colorado Springs, Kidder is hitting the road for Mesa, Ariz., where he will work on projects that include a new Chicago Cubs stadium for spring training, a light rail system and the city’s airport.

Kidder, 54, moved to Colorado Springs from Buffalo, N.Y., in 1980 and did soil testing for a geotechnical engineering firm for eight years before joining the city.

He’s had several management roles, and in recent years, he’s been the guy who prioritizes and manages the list of city road projects under the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. The 2004 voter-approved sales and use tax pays for roadway construction and maintenance in the area. 
“It’s a huge job, and he’s had a lot of responsibility,” said El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey, who serves on the PPRTA board of directors.

“I appreciate the fact that when he came to us with a cost overrun or a change, he was always a straight shooter. He’d tell us what the problem was and what they would do to solve it. And he got it done,” Hisey said.

It’s not hard to figure out that Colorado Springs’ network of streets has problems, mainly because it lacks a grid design for east-west travel. Some streets, like Constitution Avenue, just end. But getting from here to there requires a delicate balancing of neighbors’ concerns and traffic needs, Kidder said.

“Neighbors have long fought projects at the cost of the commuters,” he said. “The East-West Mobility Study was the first time commuters had a say."

Through PPRTA funding, some of the recommendations of that 2001 study are being accomplished, including extending Woodmen Road and Austin Bluffs Parkway.

“Colorado Springs has a lot of unfinished road projects. Some of the extensions have been on the books for decades. I understand neighbors’ resistance, but when we come in with sound walls or rubberized asphalt to lesson the noise, they are less reluctant,” Kidder said.

Beverly Majewski, financial manager for the PPRTA, said she has valued Kidder’s ability to talk about technical issues in a non-technical way, and mix in a little humor.

“We’ll really miss his presentations. He can take complicated things and explain them to committee and staff,” she said.

Kidder lists as top accomplishments under his leadership replacing the Cimarron bridge over Interstate 25 after it fell apart, building a new Austin Bluffs bridge over Union Boulevard and building a Woodmen Road bridge over Academy Boulevard, which opened in March.

“We also built the first triple left turn in the city at Fillmore Street and Union Boulevard. There was a lot of opposition — people said it would never work. But it solved the problem, and people finally understand it,” Kidder said. 

Part of the reason Kidder is headed out of town is because he doesn’t favor Colorado Springs’ new strong mayor form of government. The mayor, to be determined in Tuesday’s election, will select department heads, who will report to him and not a city manager. That doesn’t sit well with Kidder.

“It opens the door for corruption, for a good-old-boy system,” he said.

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