Fort Carson’s southernmost gate opened in 2012 to make room for additional traffic and to shorten the work commute from Fountain and Pueblo. It’s considered a practical alternative because of its proximity to the airfield — but it’s not a smooth commute, say El Paso County officials.
Charter Oak Ranch Road, an aged, rugged street that leads to Butts Army Airfield from Fountain, is completely inadequate to support high traffic volume, said District 5 County Commissioner Peggy Littleton.
The uneven roadway is a direct, 1.5-mile connection between Exit 128 on Interstate 25 and Gate 19, and is badly in need of improvements that include expanding road capacity and restructuring its poor drainage system, Littleton said.
“Charter Oak Ranch Road has been described by some as almost ‘a wilderness adventure’ over a road that is totally inadequate to handle thousands of cars every day,” she said. “Many Fort Carson workers who could use it to get to their work stations have been forced to use Gate 20 instead, resulting in traffic jams and delays almost every morning, and adding to congestion on the primary roads on post.”
In 2014, El Paso County secured $1.2 million from a U.S. Department of Transportation Tiger Grant to plan and design improvements to the damaged road.
And last year, El Paso County secured an additional $4.5 million Surface Transportation Block Grant between the county and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, providing an additional $1 million local match.
Now, the county is asking for a $6.3 million grant from the Defense Access Road funds to complete the improvements to provide adequate access to Gate 19.
“Charter Oak Ranch Road connects residents with training and employment, and is necessary to grow the area into a walkable, commutable, livable employment center that is critical to the region,” Littleton said.
The county may also see an additional $1.57 million in sales taxes. Littleton said in most cases, the increased sales tax revenue goes to fund the increase in services needed to support the additional population and additional students in schools.
“In the case of the PPRTA, the sales tax revenue is designated for roads in El Paso County including the city of Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs and others,” she said.
This year, the U.S. Army Installation Management Command listed improvements to Charter Oak Ranch Road as the No. 1 priority for Defense Access Road funding in 2018.
The problem? Lack of appropriate engineering and failure to meet state standards, Littleton says.
Sometime before 1956, rock quarries operating in the area placed pavement on the dirt road (that consisted of few drainage structures) and didn’t construct it to any engineering standards or criteria, now resulting in a “four-wheel adventure” as opposed to an easy commute, she said.
Now the country road has additional traffic, thanks to expansion at the Army post.
Between 2011-2015, an infantry brigade combat team and new combat aviation brigade moved onto Fort Carson, occupying Butts Army Air Field and adding 6,400 new soldiers.
The move brought an estimated 9,600 indirect jobs to the region, for a total of almost 16,000 new jobs, said District 4 County Commissioner Dennis Hisey.
“Traffic congestion in the morning peak hours are typically 8 to 10 minutes for vehicles trying to get to I-25 from Mesa Ridge Parkway — and longer for those continuing on through Gate 20 to get to jobs on post,” he said. “These traffic jams lead to more accidents and require more assistance from the county sheriff’s office, state patrol and military police.”
The $11.5 million improvement project will potentially eliminate more than 26,110 miles driven per day in the region and would ease traffic congestion at Gate 20 to the north — the only other access gate in the surrounding area, Hisey said.
“The project is important to protect and support Fort Carson, the soldiers and civilians who work there and all of the contractors and suppliers who do business with Fort Carson,” he said.
Work is underway after receipt of grant money for planning and design, according to Littleton.
“Staff and community leadership have also worked to secure the 2015 Surface Transportation Program grant and work is now being done to secure a DAR grant sufficient to complete the needed right of way acquisition and construct the improvements,” she said.
Making Gate 19 an additional functional access point would support growth at the airfield and relieve Gate 20 congestion, said Andy Merritt, chief defense industry officer for the Regional Business Alliance.
“It’s a tangible project that will improve the quality of life for Fort Carson and will make Fountain and Pueblo West more attractive areas to live with the gate being close,” he said.
[su_note note_color=”#7db9ff”]Planned improvements:
• Widen and pave Charter Oak Ranch Road
• Transform it to an urban two-lane roadway
• Add a roundabout at the Charter Oak Ranch Road and Santa Fe Avenue intersection
• Reduce steep road grades
• Add turn lanes where necessary
• Water and drainage quality improvements[/su_note]