The Cimarron Street bridge was used to symbolize the area’s crumbling infrastructure last year when officials sought a tax increase, but it is not near the top of the list now that money is flowing in.
Replacement of the 47-year-old span east of Interstate 25 is slated for sometime between 2010 and 2014. That puts it in the second tier of projects being tackled by the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority’s 1-cent tax. The bridge and its cracked columns decorated fliers arguing the need for more road funding. El Paso County Commission Vice Chairwoman Sallie Clark was on one of those direct-mail pieces with the structure. Clark wonders if voters will feel they were manipulated into backing the tax with images of a project that is not a high priority. She hopes to move replacement of the bridge up to 2008 at today’s transportation authority meeting. “We’ve been talking about that bridge for years. Even when I was on council (from 2001-03), it was failing,” she said. “The Cimarron bridge was a poster child for the RTA.” Spanning Conejos Street and Union Pacific Railroad tracks, the bridge partially closed in 2003 when chunks of concrete fell from its columns. The city spent $800,000 covering the columns in metal sleeves, and the repairs are expected to keep it safe for another eight years. Still, the bridge has a rating of 49 out of 100, meaning it is insufficient under state standards. Although that doesn’t mean it will collapse, it ranks it among the most unsafe bridges in the city. The bridge will add 3,000 vehicles to its 30,000 daily carload during the first 10 months of 2007, when the I-25/Bijou Street interchange is closed for repairs. Traffic entering downtown will be redirected to several places, including the Cimarron Street exit that dumps eastbound motorists directly onto the bridge. That, City Councilman Tom Gallagher argues, is reason enough to move up repairs, making motorists more secure. The council and the Citizens Transportation Advisory Board disagree with Gallagher and Clark. The recent repairs will keep the bridge sturdy in coming years, and other projects are more in need of immediate work, officials say. Transportation Authority members have designated 25 city projects for funding through 2009. Deemed critical to traffic flow, they range from a $40 million Austin Bluffs Parkway/Union Boulevard overpass to $40,000 in improvements to Constitution Avenue and Chelton Road. If the $4.8 million bridge replacement is moved forward, it likely would delay an identically priced widening of Fillmore Street between I-25 and Centennial Boulevard. Traffic now backs up over that three-fourths-mile stretch during rush hour, blocking driveways and business entrances, city engineer Cam McNair said. Colorado Springs Vice Mayor Larry Small spoke with Clark about speeding the replacement of the bridge, but he decided recently it could be put off. “I certainly am not concerned about the state of the bridge right now,” Small said. “The bridge is safe.” To accelerate bridge repairs, Clark must persuade other members of the transportation authority board to go along with her. She hopes memories of the November campaign to pass the tax will do that. “I think we need to follow through on our promises to the public,” she said. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0184 or email@example.com MEETING What: Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority board meeting When: 1:30 p.m. today Where: Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments conference room, 15 S. 7th St. On the agenda: Cimarron Street bridge reconstruction schedule; project status reports