Two major east-west thoroughfares are under construction, slowing traffic and frustrating businesses that can’t wait for customers to be back on the road again.
The $17 million Pikes Peak Avenue reconstruction project is projected to finish two months early, but the $30.9 million Westside Avenue Action Plan project is already past its original completion date, and its traffic-dampening effects may linger into the summer tourist season. It’s also more than $5 million over budget.
Wildcat Construction Co., the contractor for both projects, is attempting to minimize the impact on businesses, but many owners are seeing revenue drops and struggling to hold on until traffic flow resumes.
WESTSIDE AVENUE PROJECT
Commonly referred to as WAAP, the project is a collaboration among the cities of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs and El Paso County. It aims to transform a seedy stretch of Colorado Avenue between Manitou Springs and Old Colorado City formerly known as No Man’s Land.
Major components of the project include creating a “slow and social” three-lane roadway flanked by bike lanes and widened sidewalks with amenities such as landscaping, undergrounded and upgraded utilities, attractive street lighting and completion of the Midland Trail.
Construction involves relocating a portion of Fountain Creek and building the new Adams Crossing bridge at Columbia Road.
Affected businesses, especially those in Manitou Springs, appreciate the objectives of the project: improving the safety and efficiency of the transportation corridor between the Highway 24 interchange in east Manitou and 32nd Street in Colorado Springs; storm drainage and flood mitigation; and economic revitalization of the corridor.
But the project, which started in January 2017, won’t be substantially completed until sometime this summer — six months after its originally scheduled completion date.
The big question for businesses and commuters is when Colorado Avenue will be completely open again to two-way traffic.
“We’re trying to nail down that date,” said Brett Hartzell, project manager for El Paso County. “Right now the date is summer. We’re still trying to figure out if we can complete it by Memorial Day.”
Inclement weather and unexpected encounters with huge boulders and utility lines that weren’t where they were supposed to be have caused delays.
“It’s a unique project because of the historical significance of the area as well as that it’s an older area,” Hartzell said. “You don’t know what’s there until you start digging.”
A few weeks ago, crews uncovered and had to remove an underground vault that was connected to a utility line. They also found upwards of 1,000 tires along the creek that were used to stabilize the waterway.
Flooding due to heavy rains last July also caused delays and necessitated repairs. And acquisition of scores of properties along the route proceeded more slowly than expected.
“We’re still working with property owners to get the last few easements wrapped up,” Hartzell said. “We like to have those in place ahead of time, but from a county standpoint, it’s not unheard of for a project to go forth without all the property acquisitions.”
Work on the project started at the west end, and the Manitou section is nearly complete.
“We’re putting driveways and sidewalks in now,” Hartzell said. “We’re looking at completing the sidewalks in the next couple of weeks. By mid-May we’re going to be in a great position, and businesses will have clear access.”
The current focus is on creek work, laying the bottom mat on the roadway and working on the eastbound lane, with traffic shifted to the westbound side.
It’s still a nightmare for Manitou’s merchants, who say the project has been a deterrent to customers.
As of last summer, Manitou’s retailers have also had to cope with the closure of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway and the loss of business associated with cog patrons.
The net result is that the sales in the retail sector have essentially been flat, while costs have gone up, said Leslie Lewis, director of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau.
“I think we’re going to see a lot more of the impact of the cog being closed this year,” Lewis said. “We need to get the construction project done and take that one out of the mix so we lose the impact we’re still seeing.”
Metal Mama’s, a metal fabrication shop at 4 Manitou Ave., has been affected by the WAAP project from Day 1.
“They took two-thirds of my property by eminent domain,” owner Judi Ellias Ochs said. “I lost a building that was going to be my showroom and more than half of my parking lot.”
Construction work on a pedestrian and bicycle bridge across Fountain Creek that will join the Midland trail “is pretty much based out of my driveway,” she said. “I’m really glad for the bridge, but it does create a lot of traffic and noise and dirt.”
The project ultimately may have unexpected benefits for the business, though.
“We’re going to take advantage of it,” Ellias Ochs said. “We are going to start building and renting e-bikes. We’re also going to have a taco truck, because a pocket park is right there as well.”
YET ANOTHER PROJECT
Since Colorado Avenue became a cone zone with jarring rough patches and long lines of traffic waiting to use a single lane, motorists have been using U.S. Highway 24/Cimarron Street.
Now there’s an additional worry: a Colorado Department of Transportation paving project on Highway 24 from Eighth Street to west of Manitou Springs.
The $11.5 million project will include a surface treatment overlay, improvements to the 21st Street intersection and bridge maintenance work.
The highway is plagued with potholes, but Lewis is concerned that construction will start before the WAAP project wraps up.
According to Michelle Peulen, who handles CDOT communications for Southeastern Colorado, the Highway 24 project is expected to begin in late May and continue through October.
“Specific hours have yet to be determined, but the large majority of paving will occur at night, particularly between Eighth and Manitou Springs,” Peulen stated in an email. “West of Manitou Springs there may be some daytime paving, but no lane closures will be permitted during peak travel times. Should a special need arise, we will notify travelers and the media as on past projects.”
PIKES PEAK AVENUE
West Pikes Peak Avenue, which was blocked off for months, is open again, but the construction on East Pikes Peak Avenue has frustrated many business owners there as well.
The street is completely closed from Wahsatch Avenue to Union Boulevard, and traffic from Union to Printers Parkway is down to one lane at times.
“It’s definitely killed our car lot business,” said Pete Norris, owner of Tanner 4-Wheel Drive at 1920 E. Pikes Peak Ave. and the small car lot next door. “The car lot is down $20,000 to $25,000 from last year before they started.”
Norris said the four-wheel-drive business has done better.
“It’s been here 50 years and has a good customer base,” he said.
Work on the project began in September 2017 and is proceeding in four phases. It involves rebuilding the roadway from the ground up and replacing most of the utilities, which are 60 to 100 years old.
A major part is the placement of a 78-inch-diameter concrete storm sewer pipe down the middle of the avenue.
Like the WAAP project, the Pikes Peak Avenue work is being financed with Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority funding.
The project is about 75 percent complete and is on track to finish two months ahead of schedule, said Ryan Phipps, project manager for the city of Colorado Springs.
On the west end of the project, “a lot of old water lines have been replaced that were almost 100 years old,” Phipps said. “Everybody is getting new water and sewer mains.”
Replacement of the “dramatically undersized” stormwater conveyance pipe will help improve water quality, collection and treatment, he said.
“We still have drainage work to finish and a lot of subgrade prep on the road area that has a lot of clays in it,” he said, adding that, due to the size of the project, “you always find things you weren’t expecting, and they impact the schedule a little bit.”
On the west end of the project by Shooks Run, crews encountered an old bridge that had been buried for decades. It was supposed to have been removed but was still there.
“That slowed things down and caused us to change our game plan,” Phipps said.
Wildcat Construction is also the contractor for the Pikes Peak Avenue project, and some businesses have wondered whether the demands of the WAAP project have caused Wildcat to pull crews from Pikes Peak Avenue, causing delays.
That’s not the case, said Chad Dubs, Wildcat project manager for Pikes Peak Avenue, although there has been coordination and prioritization of resources between the two projects, which have separate management teams and crews.
The remaining work on the project, such as subgrade stabilization, “requires temperatures above freezing for at least two weeks,” he said. “We haven’t had that window to do that.”
Managers of both projects have endeavored to be proactive with outreach and communication to keep businesses and residents aware of progress and impacts.
“Specifically on Pikes Peak Avenue, we do put out additional signage for business access entry points, since they do change during construction,” Dubs said.
The team has met periodically with individual businesses and has made sure owners have access to Dubs and the project superintendent to report any issues.
“If they have a truck parked where it shouldn’t be, we can immediately address that,” he said.
“We’re ahead of budget and ahead of schedule,” Dubs said. “We are hoping to reopen all the way to Printers by the first of May. Then we’ll be finishing up the other two lanes through June. The actual finish date scheduled right now is September, but we’re looking to be done in July.”