After three years of disaster-related turmoil, frustration and lost revenue, will the storm-ravaged Ute Pass area finally get a break?
Local elected leaders aren’t making any promises regarding the invasions of Mother Nature, but are cautiously optimistic about flood control efforts done by Colorado Department of Transportation, Coalition of Upper South Platte and other organizations; and the prospects of a main, crucial highway that won’t shut down on a regular basis. This trend, coupled with new highway projects, could accelerate travel between Colorado Springs and Teller County, according to local officials.
In fact, if the first few major storm events are any indications of the battle to keep Hwy 24 open, then leaders are ready to wave a preliminary victory flag.
“What they are doing is working,” said Marc Dettenrieder, the chairman of the Teller County Commissioners, in discussing the mitigation work by CDOT at last week’s regular meeting.
According to Dettenrieder, the region has only experienced one major closure, and that was attributed to a serious hail storm and had nothing to do with floods and rain storms. More importantly, he said the region hasn’t experienced any closures from rock debris and flooding in the burn scar, despite the continual rain storms that have afflicted the region. The commission chairman praised the intensive work done, highlighted by more than $50 million worth of mitigation, capped by new culverts and diversion channels.
He expressed cautious optimism regarding the mitigation efforts but admitted that Mother Nature will have the final say, especially if she delivers huge storms with several inches of rain within a short period.
The commission chairman also touted newly-approved state legislation that will reduce the red tape for disaster-ravaged areas, such as the Ute Pass and Teller County, if they have to do 11th hour emergency and mitigation work. Under this legislation, these areas can avoid water studies and other regulations associated with these projects. He cited this legislation as a good move and a sign of more support for areas in post-fire and flood zones.
His comments paralleled those of Woodland Park Mayor Neil Levy. The WP mayor recently spoke highly of the mitigation work and believes CDOT is on the right track in easing up on its pre-emptive closures. During an earlier meeting, CDOT representative Karen Rowe announced agency plans to only shut down Hwy. 24 in the Ute Pass if a certain level of debris and hazardous materials threatens travel along the thoroughfare following big storms. In the past, the highway was shut done due to flash flood warnings as a precautionary move.
Levy asked the state if they could be more pre-active in alerting residents of the times when the highway would get reopened during scheduled closures.
But area emergency responders say local residents still have to be on their guard, and can’t get overly optimistic. Officials estimate that the Waldo burn scar could have flooding problems for the next decade. A recent community meeting in the Ute Pass Elementary School concluded that residents still have many hurdles to overcome.
Besides less closures of the main highway, official are optimistic about new transportation projects.
Last week, Commissioner Norm Steen, who serves as a board member on the Pikes Peak Regional Council of Governments, gave a detailed report on the I-25/Cimarron interchange project, a major $116.1 million venture off Hwy. 24 that he believes will greatly facilitate travel between Colorado Springs and Teller County. “This is a very beneficial project for us because so many of our residents work in Colorado Springs,” said Steen, who has been a big proponent of this effort, along with former District Three Commissioner Jim Ignatius.
For many years, the commissioners in the Teller/El Paso County region have maintained that the dollars they have received for federal and state projects paled in comparison to Denver, even though El Paso County is the most populated county in the state. According to Steen, these voices are finally being heard.
When completed in 2017, the project, which will emulate some of the enhancements done at the Woodmen and Interstate 25 interchange, will establish a much improved thoroughfare with better highway entrances and lanes, ramps, bridges, turning areas and even open space/pedestrian areas with enhanced trail connections. “It will be totally different,” said Steen.
The project will break ground this year, but most of the construction work will occur next year. Steen said the construction project will be done in a way that won’t impede travel. It is ranked as the second biggest highway construction project in the history of Colorado Springs.
Foreclosures slowing down
In other Teller government news, Teller County Treasurer Bob Campbell told the commissioners that foreclosure rates have slowed down considerably, a statistic that demonstrates an improving economy.
He reported 18 foreclosures for the first quarter of 2015. At this rate, Campbell is projecting that Teller could finish the year with 72 residential foreclosures, a rate that will be “on par” with 2014. “It’s been about the same,” said Campbell, in comparing the current year with 2014. This decline in foreclosures for the last two years represents a much different picture from 2009 and 2010, when the county gained a reputation as one of the prime foreclosure hubs of Colorado
The commissioners also gave a five-year service award last week to Steve Steed, the high profile director of its emergency management agency. Steed, who sports an impressive resume with stints directing emergency response and management efforts for the city of Denver and for major events, like the Democratic National Convention, gave one of the more emotional award speeches. He thanked the current cadre of leaders fore remaining committed to emergency management, along with County Administrator Sheryl Decker for assisting him with a health-related situation.