Springs waiting for enchilada since Nixon era

By: The Gazette editorial
May 1, 2013 Updated: May 3, 2013 at 9:52 am
photo - Nixon

When local politicians began a quest for essential improvements to the interchange at Cimarron and I-25, Time magazine recognized the 'Man of the Year ' instead of the 'Person of the Year. ' The 'man ' that year was President Richard Nixon. Americans were dying in Vietnam.

We began trying to fix the interchange when America's favorite pinup girls were Jane Fonda and Raquel Welch. The population of Colorado Springs was 135,000.

Today, the interchange that didn't properly meet the needs of 135,000 people serves more like 435,000 - not including substantial new population in the surrounding metropolitan area.

We have waited, through bull and bear markets, for 42 years.

Colorado Springs, stop acting like Colorado's second city and demand that state politicians allocate the money we deserve for a rebuild of Cimarron and I-25 and at least five other projects the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments wants.

The council plans to pitch Cimarron and I-25 to the Colorado Department of Transportation as part of a 'pre-application ' process by May 1. The council also wants a $21.3 million Fillmore Interchange project. Other requests would pay for needed improvements to: Powers Boulevard (widening), $10 million; Old Ranch interchange, $9.3 million; Old/New Meridian, $8.6 million; U.S. 24 West business rout, $2.6 million.

A Gazette news story Tuesday explained a concern among some members of the PPACG about the dangers of asking state government for too much.

'It's a gamble for us, ' said El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, a member of the PPACG board. 'I don't want to go for the whole enchilada and get just the salada. '

By all means, ask for and obtain an entire enchilada.

Much of the sale will fall to Les Gruen, the Pikes Peak region's transportation commissioner. Gruen said success requires 'that we tell a good story, whatever that story is. '

The story is simple. One in every eight Coloradans lives in metropolitan Colorado Springs, yet Colorado's second-largest city receives only 4 percent of state transportation funds. This means our city has long subsidized transportation improvements for the rest of the state. That may explain why one important project has waited since Donny Osmond hit the charts with 'Puppy Love. '

The state of the Pikes Peak region's transportation facilities has everything to do with the well-being of its economy. The economy of this region has a disproportionate effect on the entire state.

Colorado Springs will not get more of its share by politely asking for less. We are entitled to a return of money paid by the more than 10 percent of Coloradans who live here.

Mayor Steve Bach, an unapologetic defender of Colorado Springs, has repeatedly argued that Colorado Springs gets shafted when the state allocates transportation funds. He refers to a Department of Transportation Memorandum of Understanding that says the Pikes Peak region should receive 9.49 percent of state transportation funds. The region has received less than half that amount in recent year, which Bach says has left the region with a $188 million shortfall.

Gruen counters that all parts of Colorado suffered a shortfall because revenues have not met expectations and a greater portion of money has gone for maintenance at the expense of capital improvements. Bach insists the revenue shortfall should not leave more than 10 percent of the state's population with 4 percent of the transportation funds. The Pikes Peak region needs all six of the projects identified by the council of governments. This isn't a wish list; it's a needs list. It neither political nor twice the enchilada we need.

Mayor Bach, members of City Council, county commissioners, business leaders and politicians of all variety: Don't be shy about making the case for our community's transportation needs. Remember, more than 10 percent of the state lives here. We are entitled, by the state's own agreement, to 9.49 percent of transportation funds each year. The council of governments has not, by any stretch, asked for too much.

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