Cripple Creek gearing up for major Teller One improvements

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by Rick Langenberg:

Even though Cripple Creek has just finished a $4.5 million facelift of the main street, city officials are not backing away from big infrastructure improvements outside the downtown.

In fact, the town is now eying major $1 million-plus enhancements along Teller One to improve one of the more dangerous and deadly public roadway stretches, and to establish more pedestrian sidewalks along this thoroughfare and parts of Myers Avenue. But the clock is ticking, unless the town wants to open its wallet wider and pay more of the costs.

Both of these projects are part of major grants awarded to the city previously by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), with the city receiving what officials lauded as a great deal at the time. However, because no action was taken to facilitate the work, the costs for both projects, dealing with Teller One safety enhancements and new sidewalks, have climbed substantially. If the city had done these projects several years ago, it would have cost the city only about $141,000, with the state paying the bulk of the expenses with $960,000. But to execute these grants now, under today’s costs, the city has to foot the bill for more than $400,000. Cripple Creek has to bear the costs of the extra inflationary expenses.

This somber fiscal reality capped a public council workshop last week, with city leaders evaluating their prospects. According to City Administrator Ray DuBois, Cripple Creek hopes to get these infrastructure projects, or at least a good portion of them, completed in 2015. “We want to do them this year,” said DuBois.

But the city could face some steep legal hurdles in negotiating with property owners and in obtaining necessary easements. Already, real estate appraisals tabulated by the city and adjacent property owners are vastly different, according to figures presented at a public meeting last week. However, city council members have cited the importance of pursuing these infrastructure enhancements. “It’s a safety issue,” said Mayor Bruce Brown, in describing Teller One realignment, encompassing a 1,700-square-foot area near Mt. Pisgah Cemetery. This would address a curve that has been the source of many accidents.

Cripple Creek was awarded highway enhancement monies by CDOT for this stretch of Teller One in 2012. More notably, these proposed improvements were aimed at providing an easier transition for motorists coming into Cripple Creek or for those departing the gaming community. At the time, officials lauded the grant as addressing major problems associated with one of the more dangerous curves on a major thoroughfare.

The sidewalk grants, meanwhile, were also previously awarded and encompassed two sections of Teller One and a portion of Myers Avenue between Third and Fourth Streets. The Teller One corridor in Cripple Creek has been the subject of much concern due to limited pedestrian access between the Venture Foods grocery store and the high school.

But with funding commitments associated with other projects, such as the Bennett Avenue facelift, the city couldn’t pursue these Teller improvements. However, with the main street project behind them, city officials now want to concentrate on the Teller One enhancements.

If an agreement can’t be reached with certain private property owners, the city could pursue condemnation action, but that might delay the projects and extend the completion date. City Attorney Lee Phillips last week outlined several legal steps the city could take, but cautioned that court actions to seize the necessary property as time consuming and expensive. City leaders agreed that this type of condemnation or “takings” action should be a last resort and opted to have more negotiations with the property owners impacted by the improvements.

Another option is not to pursue some of the sidewalk work. But that could pose questions over how much grant money the city could then use for the projects. Elected leaders want to move quickly in making a decision, as the longer the work gets delayed, the higher the costs. “The ball is in our court,” said Mayor Pro Tem Steve Zoellner

City officials conceded that no matter what course is taken, the grants still offer a prime funding opportunity with the state originally agreeing to a 90 percent pay-out to the city for the Teller One realignment and 80 percent for the sidewalk work. In other infrastructure updates, DuBois reported last week much progress has occurred along the downtown parking front. He said meetings have occurred between his office and many local businesses and casino operators in order to develop a block-by-block parking plan with more defined rules. He conceded that one factor not taken into account previously involved the city shuttle. With more narrow driving lanes along Bennett Avenue, the city shuttle must drop off and pick up passengers in more designated areas, instead of just using the main street.