No funding yet, some frustration about U.S. 24 widening project

Property owners consider possibility of eminent domain by state

Residents, Merchants Consider Impacts of U.S. 24 Widening

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Dozens of property owners are affected by a long-discussed plan to widen U.S. Route 24 between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, but no money has been allocated for the project.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has completed an environmental impact study of the 3-mile, $240 million project.  It would widen the highway from four to six lanes and add interchanges at several intersections.

David Leinweber, owner of three businesses at the intersection of U.S. 24 and 21st Street, said nearly 70 businesses and several homeowners will have to close or move to make way for the project.

"My business would go," he said.  "I'm not sure it can survive in another location.  It's become vital to this location."

Leinweber said he and other property owners oppose the project and will fight any effort by CDOT to use eminent domain -- the process of forcing them to sell their property for the public good.

Keith King, president of the Colorado Springs City Council, recently cast the deciding vote against an ordinance that would have limited the city's eminent domain authority.  He said he supports the project but understands the concerns of property owners.

"Most of the time, people like the eminent domain process because it tends to give them a higher price than what the market value is," King said.  "We will have some discussion with some of these people if we need to, to make sure that everything is taken care of for them OK."

Dave Watt, a CDOT engineer, said he hopes property owners will understand the importance of the project and sell willingly once the project is funded and a construction start date is determined.

"That's still a long way off," he said.  "But usually we don't have to resort to condemnation."

Meanwhile, work begins next year on a connected project to improve the interchange at U.S. Route 24 and Interstate 25.  The three-year, $95 million project is listed as the area's top road construction priority.

CDOT already has purchased the property of the former Express Inn at the intersection of U.S. Route 24 and Eighth Street, located between both projects.

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