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Pikes Peak could soon prohibit most private vehicles, mandate shuttle rides to top

April 9, 2018 Updated: April 10, 2018 at 7:10 pm
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A visitor walks into the weathered summit house Saturday morning, June 22, 2013, on the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Most people who want to drive to the top of Pikes Peak might have to park below and ride a shuttle to the summit starting this summer.

If Summit House construction starts this summer, the work would eradicate half the parking on the mountain, said Jack Glavan, manager of Pikes Peak-America's Mountain.

That work start hinges on a $13.5 million appropriation that the City Council is being asked to approve Tuesday.

The limited parking, coupled with the recent closure of the popular Pikes Peak Cog Railway, are the chief reasons a shuttle is being considered.

If a shuttle mandate is imposed, people with special needs or with small children in car seats will be among the few allowed to drive to the summit, Glavan said.

An estimated 500,000 people drive up the Pikes Peak Highway each year, Glavan said.

Another 300,000 used the 8.9-mile Cog Railway, and half of them are expected to turn to the highway, he said.

But the surplus traffic would strain the highway, so the city has requested bids from shuttle services, Glavan said.

"We're looking at absorbing that cost into the entrance fee," he said. "It's going to be a free shuttle as far as visitors are concerned."

In summer - the mountain's peak season - tickets to drive up the highway cost $15 per person or $50 for a carload of up to five, Glavan said.

The revenue averages $10 per person each year.

Last year, toll fees and sales at the existing Summit House generated about $6.8 million for Pikes Peak-America's Mountain, an enterprise of the City of Colorado Springs.

About $3.5 million was spent on operations, infrastructure and project costs, Glavan said.

That $3.3 million margin is more than enough to cover the first year's estimated $2.5 million for the shuttle, he said.

The enterprise already has budgeted $1 million for the service.

Even if the shuttle operated at a loss the first year, Glavan said, part of the $13.5 million appropriation can be used to make up the cost.

An additional $3 million is in the enterprise's reserves.

At peak hours, the shuttle would take passengers from about 30 vehicles - split between two parking lots - to the summit and back, he said.

Fifteen cars would stop at the Devil's Playground parking lot, and another 15 would launch from a parking lot near the start of the annual International Hill Climb.

A third, overflow parking lot and shuttle launch spot will be at the Glen Cove stop on the way to the summit, Glavan said.

The shuttle mandate could take effect May 31, if the council approves the appropriation, Glavan said.

The new Summit House already has received $13.5 million generated through tolls and other mountain revenue sources, city Chief Financial Officer Charae McDaniel told the council last month.

"The enterprise has been saving," McDaniel said. "They've been planning this for a long time."

The existing Summit House was built in 1960, she said.

No general fund dollars will be used for its replacement, Glavan said.

Aside from the $13.5 million already saved, he said, about $36.5 million must be raised to finish funding the project.

Fundraising will start later this summer. And while the enterprise should be able to pay for a shuttle service, the added cost might hinder its ability to save more for the new Summit House.

The new structure should be finished by fall 2020, Glavan said. It will be south of the existing Summit House.

Visitors will be able to walk onto the roof of the new building for vastly improved views, Glavan said.

They also can expect updated kitchen and dining facilities, better retail space and an educational area on the history, significance and geology of Pikes Peak.

Meanwhile, the Cog Railway's closure also is hitting Manitou Springs' pocketbook, with $500,000 in tax revenue expected to be lost each year.

Monday, Mayor Ken Jaray said he hadn't heard about the potential shuttle mandate and couldn't say whether it, too, might hurt the town's tax revenue.

The Cog Railway's tracks, rail cars and other equipment are dated and need to be reviewed for up to three years, say representatives of The Broadmoor hotel, which owns the railway.

The hotel's owner also owns Clarity Media, which operates The Gazette.

The railway ultimately might be closed for good.

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