By Scott Prater
Discussions are underway between developers, users and local government officials concerning the reclassification of Colorado State Highway 94, which could impact road safety and travel time to and from Schriever Air Force Base.
Developers, who could construct housing, retail centers, office buildings and restaurants along the highway between Colorado Springs and Schriever, have made a proposal to reclassify Highway 94 from an “expressway” to a “non-rural arterial.”
It all started during 2007, when the El Paso County Board of Commissioners voted to request reclassification of the highway. Following a nearly two-year period of inaction, the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments took up the issue this past December, when its board of directors voted to formally request that the reclassification process begin.
During the December meeting, a parallel process was approved by the PPACG where reclassification would be pursued through the state, while El Paso County started on an access management plan. Both are expected to take up to a year.
Ultimately, the Colorado Department of Transportation will make the decision regarding reclassification, but in recent public meetings, stake holders and members of the public have voiced their opposition to the action.
Tom Mowle, El Paso County Public Trustee and vice chair of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Government Community Advisory Committee, was surprised by the proposed reclassification, and wonders why developers are in such a rush to reclassify the road. He is not opposed to CDOT reclassifying the highway, but makes a valid argument about the smartest way to do it.
“We want an access management plan developed before the highway is reclassified,” Mowle said.
Mowle contends that reclassifying the highway before the access management plan is developed could lead to a crazy assortment of intersections and poor mobility and safety along the road.
As a primary user of the highway, Schriever Air Force Base and the 50th Space Wing, hold a considerable stake and stand to be impacted by any decision made regarding the road.
Col. Ed Baron, 50th Mission Support Group commander here, said the 50 SW is concerned, but not opposed to the highway’s reclassification, and doesn’t necessarily argue for an access management plan to be in place prior to reclassification. The Colorado Department of Transportation must still grant access changes to the highway. Even with the current classification, a developer could get a waiver and have a non-standard access approved.
“The state is aware of our concerns and we’re counting on them to control access until the access management plan is complete,” Colonel Baron said.
With progress going forward to reclassify, El Paso County has committed to build the access management plan. The 50th Civil Engineering Squadron will participate in the drafting and review process of the plan to make sure safety and travel time are primary considerations.
“We’re hoping this encourages development in an organized manner that will help fund the road improvements and bring businesses that improve the quality of life for families closer to the base,” Col. Baron said. “What we don’t want to see is what’s happening on Marksheffel Road, where you have a lot of development occurring ahead of road improvements and you end up with a road that can’t support the traffic flow.”
For now, Schriever will rely on the state, as it has in the past, to continue to control access while the county builds the access management plan. In Colonel Baron’s view, it did not appear that the county was willing to expend resources on an access management plan unless the road was going to be reclassified.
“The ultimate goal for the 50th Space Wing,” he said, “Is to improve the safety of Highway 94. We need do that while protecting travel time and encouraging development that will bring amenities closer to the base, and at the same time, in this fiscal environment, fund the safety improvements to highway 94.”