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Cost, time increasing for Westside Avenue project in El Paso County

$41 million project was supposed to be done by now

Project manager explains challenges in Westside Avenue project

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - This holiday season won't be a happy one for many merchants, drivers and residents affected by a major improvement project at the border of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs.

That group thought the two-year project, known as the Westside Avenue Action Plan, would be finished by now -- as originally scheduled.

But project manager Brett Hartzell confirmed Monday that work to upgrade the area where Colorado and Manitou avenues meet won't be finished until next June.

Furthermore, the project's cost has risen from an initial $31 million to $41 million.

"Some of the stuff, we really didn't see coming -- such as tires in Fountain Creek," said Hartzell said.  "And some of the utility lines were so old that no one knew whose they were.  So that was something.  And then the flooding from last summer.  We also had to remove large boulders, an old rail line and other infrastructure.  We had to acquire more private property than we expected."
Despite the challenges, Hartzell said most people are patient with, and supportive of, the project to improve a blighted and long-neglected area that crosses three jurisdictions.

"Hang with us, we've been making great progress," he said.

But patience and understanding are hard to come by for businesses like Smokey Joe's smoke shop, even being at the west end of the project where much work has been done.

"It's terrible," said Crystal Villegas-Martinez, and employee.  "It's hard enough to start a business over here in the first place.  Then you get all this construction going on, people can't even get here.  We have nowhere to park because they're tearing up all the roads.  It's not good."

Others have mixed feelings about the project.

"When it's finished, I'm sure it'll be dramatically better than what it was," said Bill Mackleer.  "Otherwise, they wouldn't be doing it."

"It's kind of a hassle now," said Kyle Houtz.  "I guess we'll have to see how it looks when it's finished."

The project includes a new bridge over Fountain Creek, new curbs, sidewalks and gutters, improved lighting and landscaping, paving and moving utility lines underground.

Most of the 1.5-mile project, stretching from 31st Street to U.S. 24, is financed with sales tax revenue from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.

To cover the additional cost, officials have reallocated funding intended for improvements on Mesa Ridge Parkway and South Academy Boulevard.

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