2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

    Sun, December 4, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    For years, the intersection at Powers Boulevard and Old Ranch Road has been one of the most dangerous in Colorado Springs.

    It’s on the far north edge of the city and it’s important because hundreds of students, parents and staff drive it each day — some kids even walk it, imagine that —getting to and from Pine Creek High School on the east side of Powers.


    But it’s an oddball arrangement where cars roaring along Powers at warp speeds actually are traveling on pavement that someday will be exit and entrance ramps on a full-blown highway interchange.

    Eventually, Powers will travel under Old Ranch, once a bridge is built to carry the road.

    Similar intersections exist on Powers at Union Boulevard and Briargate Parkway.

    The exit ramp design has created a fractured intersection resulting in a lot of fractured cars.


    Old Ranch has seen assorted roll-overs, T-bones and collisions with poles.

    There was another last week. Maybe you saw the headline. A car spectacularly rolled and smashed two utility poles. The driver, Sherry Parker, 49, of Falcon, suffered serious injuries.

    It was the latest of 37 wrecks reported at the intersection in three years. Of those, 17 were “right-angle” wrecks, known as T-bones.

    Many blame motorists on Powers for all the wrecks and say speeds need to be lowered and bridges built to end the carnage.





















    I called Dave Krauth, the city’s traffic engineer.

    First the good news.

    Krauth says construction will begin this spring, perhaps as early as April, on the bridges. The Colorado Department of Transportation agrees the intersections are dangerous and must be fixed. CDOT has appropropriated $9 million and hired a contractor to start construction.

    The bad news, it’s unclear exactly when the bridge at Old Ranch will start.

    Courtesy Google Earth

    At Union and Briargate, the bridges will carry Powers over the city streets, which will remain open as construction goes on around them.

    But because a bridge is needed to carry Old Ranch, there may be a significant delay in construction.

    “We’re not sure how they’ll be able to maintain traffic on Old Ranch,” Krauth said. “There’s really no good detour.”

    After the work starts, it may be 18 months before everything is done.

    As for speed limits on Powers, Krauth is not inclined to lower them.

    “The truth is, all but four of the 17 right-angle wrecks were caused by drivers on Old Ranch,” Krauth said. “Not Powers.”

    He said most of the wrecks could be easily avoided.

    “People need to stop running red lights,” he said. “It’s that simple. Red means red. Red means stop.

    “They need to start obeying the traffic lights.”

    Maybe we should put some red-light cameras at the intersection. I believe there’s a few spare cameras available!



    Sun, March 13, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    This concrete trash bin at the Colorado Department of Transportation maintenance yard on Commercial Boulevard near I-25 and South Circle Drive holds dozens of campaign signs found illegally planted along state highways.

    Campaign signs, large and small, along with assorted business signs fill a concrete bin at the Colorado Department of Transportation maintenance yard.

    Ever wonder where political campaign signs go to die?  

    If they get placed illegally along state highways in the Colorado Springs region, the concrete trash bin in the maintenance yard of the Colorado Department of Transportation is their final resting place.  


    Lots of signs — large and small – find their way in to the bin.  

    Actually, it’s kind of a relief to know it is not political dirty tricksters taking hundreds of signs reported lost by various candidates for mayor and City Council.  

    The folks at CDOT say they hold the signs for 30 days to give the owners a chance to reclaim them. The signs could be stored at any of six maintenance facilities scattered around El Paso and Teller counties.  

    The process of reclaiming signs starts by calling CDOT at 227-3246 and leaving a message. CDOT will track down your signs and tell you where to find them.  

    I found a big pile at the maintenance yard near I-25 and South Circle Drive at 2025 Commercial Boulevard.  

    This maintenance yard on Commercial Boulevard is one of six the Colorado Department of Transportation maintains in El Paso and Teller counties.

    Buddy Gilmore, candidate for mayor of Colorado Springs, caught a Brickman Group landscaper taking down campaign signs of his rivals in the race.

    But CDOT isn’t the only group taking signs. Some are taken illegally, as mayoral candidate Buddy Gilmore discovered. 

    He kept noticing signs of his opponents and City Council candidates disappearing along Briargate Parkway and surrounding streets.

    So he was keeping an eye out the window of his office near the corner of Briargate and Explorer Drive. On Wednesday, a sign for Sean Paige vanished.

    Mayoral candidate Buddy Gilmore snapped this photo of a Brickman Group landscaper carrying away a Sean Paige city council campaign sign.

    Buddy jumped in his car and started hunting for the thief.

    Soon, he came upon a landscaper from the Brickman Group carrying freshly plucked Paige signs.

    Gilmore confronted the man, who said he was ordered to remove the signs, which were legally placed on city right-of-way.

    Turns out the landscaper was carrying out orders of the Briargate Business Campus Owners Association, Gilmore said.

    Somebody, perhaps the management company, doesn’t like signs and ordered them removed. Or stolen, in other words.

    It’s not a petty crime. Gilmore said he’s lost 800 signs this campaign, at $1.50 apiece!. There were nine mayoral candidates and about 1,000 candidates for City Council. They’ve all complained of lost signs and that adds up to some real money.  

    I also discovered there are sign vigilantes out there. Some folks don’t like signs of any kind cluttering the roadways. They go around and steal them, said Ken Lewis, the city code enforcement administrator. At least one vigilante has been charged with theft.

    I had no idea.


  • RAINBOW FALLS: years of work rewarded; years of work remain

    Wed, February 24, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    L’Aura Montgomery came to Colorado Springs in May 2005 for a week-long business trip.

    She took a drive up Pikes Peak and on the way down, she pulled of U.S. Highway 24 to use her cell phone. Her exit happened to be along Fountain Creek near Rainbow Falls and it led her into Manitou Springs.

    “I thought: ‘Omigosh, where am I?’ ” Montgomery recalled. “There was such an energy about Manitou. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

    She was so enthralled that when she got back home to Lancaster, Pa., she sold or gave away everything that wouldn’t fit in her car and headed back to Manitou.

    “I cut all my ties and drove out here,” she said. I left my two adult boys, my ex-husband, mom and dad, brother.

    “I came here without knowing a soul here. But it called to me.”

    It didn’t take long for L’Aura, 49, to immerse herself in the community. The jeweler and photographer made friends, was joined by her sons and eventually found love in Lane Williams. Here is a photo of L’Aura and Lane:






    An activist by nature, she was quick to take up the cause of Rainbow Falls, a postcard-beautiful waterfall. Here it is on a historic postcard .











    I love the hype used in describing the falls. Actually, I’m surprised they got away with the “largest falls in Colorado” line since it is only a fraction as high as Seven Falls, a few miles away.













    Still, it was a popular tourist destination a century ago.



     But the falls had become a sad joke in recent years, known as “Graffiti Falls.” Here’s how it looked Wednesday. Snow covered much of the graffiti near the falls.

    It’s trouble started in the 1930s when the state built a bridge across it, obscuring its view. In recent years, it has become the favorite canvas of juvenile delinquents with spray paint.

    Then came the taggers.

    They clearly like the location, in a remote canyon accessible only by foot along a historic wagon road to the gold fields of Cripple Creek and South Park. Here’s a look at the location from FlashEarth.com.

    The taggers spare nothing in their quest for fresh canvas. Here is the sign erected at the canyon entrance to alert people to the historic nature of the road.

    The short hike to the falls is more of the same:

    Then you reach the bridge.

    Not only is it ugly, but it is deteriorating. If it needs repair, maybe it ought to be removed altogether, daylighting the falls!

    Not only did the state obscure scenic beauty, it created an environmental nightmare of gravel fill that continually slides into Fountain Creek below the falls.

     The hillside has pumped tons of silt and sediment into the creek over the years. Colorado Department of Transportation crews have made the situation worse trying to stabilize the hillside by dumping huge boulders down the hillside. Many rolled right into the creek, actually changing the course of the creek and causing even worse erosion to the tow of the hill.

    In this photo, boulders are strewn down the hillside and in the creek.

    For decades, the falls have been privately owned. Recently, the owners, Mansfield Development Co., which also owns the Cave of the Winds, agreed to give the property to El Paso County. Already, a preliminary rainbow falls master plan has been drafted addressing all the issues and goals for the property.

    Once the change of ownership is official, a new round of public meeting will be held to update and formalize the master plan. Money will need to be raised and work will begin to clean up the area, build a trail, picnic areas and more.



    Wed, September 2, 2009 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    The Colorado Department of Transportation ought to just park a backhoe and dump truck along Rusina Road so they’ll be handy the next time it decides to rebuild the adjacent Garden of the Gods Road exit off of Interstate 25.

    Here’s a look at the interchange from FlashEarth:


    The problem is to the left of I-25, on the north side of Garden of the Gods Road, where the exit ramp abuts Rusina Road.

    Here’s a better look at the trouble spot that developed after CDOT rebuilt the exit in 2006.


    Imagine trying to get off I-25 onto Garden of the Gods during the evening rush hour when hundreds of Pinecliff and Rockrimmon residents are trying to cut in front of you to turn north on Rusina.

    Happened every day and caused a lot of wrecks. Folks in Mountain Shadows neighborhood feared someone would get killed and lobbied CDOT for changes. Here’s a previous Side Streets on their complaints.

    So CDOT held neighborhood meetings and decided the safest option was to stop traffic from turning off Garden of the Gods onto Rusina. They painted a solid white stripe and erected plastic pylons to prevent the turns.

    But neighbors howled in objection. They wanted their shortcut back. More meetings and some hard-ball politics led to the installation of a stop sign on the far right-turn lane and a traffic signal on the middle right-turn lane. Here’s the Side Streets column I wrote on that development.

    The idea was to stop interstate traffic to give preference to the neighborhood shortcutters.

    Now, CDOT is plowing up the exit once again. The signs and signals were too confusing. So they are simplifying the intersection. You can see some of the signs that left motorists befuddled:


    Here’s a look at the construction already underway and the plans for the new exit. One of the islands is already removed and the exit is being widened to create a double right-turn lane:


     Here is a drawing, taken from CDOT blueprints, showing the previous allignment and the new design. rusinablueprint1

     Next is a crude drawing on a FlashEarth photo of how the new exit will look.



    For you history buffs, here’s a link to a blog I posted in September 2007 on the Rusina Road cross-over controversy. It was just the second blog I had ever posted. You might chuckle at the contrast between it and the long-winded blogs I create today.


    Fri, June 26, 2009 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    Side Streets reader, Jordan Strub, asked me if I’d ever noticed the Fillmore Street bridge.

    Specifically, he was curious about the underside of the bridge that carries Fillmore Street over Monument Creek just east of the interchange with Interstate 25.

    Here’s a look from www.FlashEarth.com:


    Here’s a photo of the bridge taken by Side Streets reader Jordan Strub:


    In the photo, piers 2 and 3 are visible. And one of the tilting rocker bearing can be seen at the end of pier 3. The photo is looking south from the Pikes Peak Greenway trail.

    Here’s a closer look at the pier and its rocker bearings:


     Here’s an even closer look:










    There are 18 rocker bearings on the two piers and they are in various stages of tilting. The worst are at 10 degrees on pier 3 while those on pier 2 measure at 5 degrees.

    Engineers with the Colorado Department of Transportation say the rocker bearings don’t need to be reset until the tilting reaches 15 degrees. Below is a view from the south.


    Resetting them is not eash. The bridge must be jacked up and the rockers placed precisely between the pier and girder to safely transfer the weight of the bridge.

    For you hard-core engineer-wanna-be types, here is a blueprint showing a rocker bearing on the right. This is from the CDOT Web site.


    This is a detail from a Colorado Department of Transportation blueprint of the bridge rocker bearings.

     CDOT bridge expert Jeff Anderson said the Fillmore Street bridge was built in 1961 and widened in 1971 and was known as bridge No. I-17-P. It was state-owned until 2007 when the city took ownership in a swap for Powers Boulevard.

    While it was CDOT property, it was  inspected every two years — like every bridge in the state, Anderson said. In it’s last state inspection on Nov. 29, 2006, the bridge was given an 83 sufficiency rating on a scale of 0-100. The deck rated a 6. The superstructure a 7 on a 0-10 scale.

    “That structure was still in good shape,” Anderson said, despite the tilting rocker bearings. Bridges must fall to a 50 sufficiency rating and be structurally deficient or functionally obsolete before they are replaced.

    Anderson attributed the tilting rockers to natural movement in the bridge. He said it shifted east, flush against the abutment. And pier 3 moved west during a flood years ago.

    Here’s a look at the east abutment. There is no gap. In fact, the railing above are smashed together.





    Want to see what happens when rocker bearings fail?

    Here’s a photo from July 2005 when a rocker bearing supporting a ramp on Interstate 787 in Albany, N.Y., failed.



    The following is an excerpt from the August 3, 2005 edition of the Albany Times Union www.timesunion.com).

    “A routine bridge inspection nearly two years ago found serious problems with the bearings supporting a section of elevated highway that ruptured and dropped 2 feet last week.

    Yet, state transportation officials said they made no plans to fix the problems with the Empire State Plaza ramp before the next planned inspection this fall.

    The overall rating on the 24-section ramp that links Interstate 787 northbound with the plaza was set at 5, or generally “good,” on a scale of 1 to 7 in the November 2003 inspection report. A set of bearings atop the concrete pier where the break occurred, however, received a rating of just 2.

    “One of DOT’s top engineers said it’s now clear that the poorly rated rocker bearings, steel supports designed to accommodate weather-related expansions and contractions of bridge sections, could have been a factor.

    “There were some low-rated bearing elements that may have had something to do with this,” said George Christian, the chief structural engineer for the state Department of Transportation.

    “The set of poorly rated bearings was on the section of the ramp that remained atop the pier, sliding toward the section that tumbled from its bearings and nearly fell off. The group of bearings was rated so poorly because they were tipped at an unusually extreme angle, Christian said.

    “It was tilted, definitely, more than we would have expected it to be tilted for the conditions at the time of the inspection,” he said.”


    Here’s the full text of my Side Streets column that appeared in the June 28, 2009, Gazette:

    Jordan Strub was riding his bicycle on the Pikes Peak Greenway trail when he looked up at the bridge carrying Fillmore Street high over the trail and Monument Creek.

    Between the horizontal steel girders of the bridge and the vertical concrete piers that rise from the creek bed is a series of stubby, rectangular steel supports – sort of like big shoe boxes – rounded on top and bottom.

    Strub noticed that many of the supports are no longer standing straight up and down. In fact, several are tilted at alarming angles.

    He wondered if it was an optical illusion because of the slanting bridge, which is lower on the east and rises to meet the west abutment.

    He wondered if the bridge, built in 1961 and widened in 1971, had been moving.

    He wondered if the bridge was safe.

    “I wondered ‘does anyone else ever notice things like this?’ ” said Strub.

    Turns out, they do. A number of people besides Strub have seen the twisting, tilting rockers and contacted the city over the years.

    But Strub had trouble reaching city engineers, so he contacted Side Streets – or, in this case, Side Bridges – and we got answers.

    “The bridge is stable and fine,” said Dan Krueger, a senior civil engineer in Colorado Springs’ engineering department.

    He explained that the tipping steel shoeboxes are called rocker bearings or panels. They were designed to rotate to compensate for movement in the bridge.

    In this case, Krueger said, the bridge slid east over the years and pier 3 shifted west in a flood years ago, causing the rockers to twist and tilt.

    Rockers were common on bridges of the era, although they were abandoned by engineers decades ago in favor of sliding teflon-coated steel plates and thick slabs of neoprene.

    Until 2007, the bridge was owned, inspected regularly and maintained by the Colorado Department of Transportation. It noted the rocking rockers as early as 1998, said Jeff Anderson, who manages the CDOT’s bridge inspection program.

    “They look funny when they start to tilt,” he said.

    Funny? Scary might be a better word.

    Anderson said CDOT experts measured the rockers on pier 3 at a 10-degree slant. Pier 2 rockers tilt just 5 degrees. Rockers must reach 15 degrees before CDOT recommends taking action.

    “It’s safe,” Anderson said.

    So why not pull them out and straighten them up?

    “You have to jack up the bridge and reset the rockers to vertical,” Anderson said. “It’s not really very easy.”

    At one time, CDOT hoped to rebuild the Fillmore and Interstate 25 interchange and replace the bridge. But the money ran out so it sits.

    Despite CDOT’s assurance the rockers have not moved in years, city experts do a visual check every 90 days, and survey crews verify its stability every six months.

    “We’re just keeping an eye on it,” Krueger said. “We will monitor it indefinitely.”