2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Disaster strikes Chestnut Street Bypass as Colorado Springs women predicted

    Fri, June 13, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    A car careened around curve on the new Chestnut Street bypass, jumped the sidewalk and crashed into the concrete wall that separates Parker Street from the bypass. Residents at the end of Parker predicted such disasters when the bypass was proposed. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A car careened around curve on the new Chestnut Street bypass, jumped the sidewalk and crashed into the concrete wall that separates Parker Street from the bypass. Residents at the end of Parker predicted such disasters when the bypass was proposed. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Next-door neighbors Ruth Wagner and Phyllis Smith predicted this would happen.

    They warned Colorado Springs officials the Chestnut Street bypass would be a disaster.

    Now, just six months or so after the new bypass opened with its stamped concrete privacy wall, an out-of-control motorist has struck the wall.

    Careened over the sidewalk and crashed into the corner post right in front of the Wagner home, leaving a trail of skid marks on the sidewalk, car parts in the gravel and cracked concrete and a wobbly post in its wake.

    The midnight Sunday wreck is the fulfillment of everything Ruth and Phyllis knew would happen. And, they believe, it’s a precursor of things to come. Perhaps next time the driver won’t walk away and the car won’t be stopped by the wall.

    Ruth Wagner describes how  cars roar around the new Chestnut Street bypass. Her home is directly behind it. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Ruth Wagner describes how cars roar around the new Chestnut Street bypass. Her home is directly behind it. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    “This is the first time and it won’t be the last,” Ruth said as she picked a wheel cover out of the gravel next to the smashed post.

    “They use this bypass as a racetrack out here,” she said as, on queue, a stream of cars loudly accelerated around the curve. “This is just what we said was going to happen.”

    The bypass was the city’s solution to a troublesome intersection a block east of where Chestnut Street, Fillmore Street and Interstate 25 exit/entrance ramps all converged.

    But rather than route Chestnut in a tunnel under Fillmore to simplify the intersection, as engineers preferred, the city chose the cheapest solution of rerouting it west, to where Parker Street met Fillmore. In the process, Parker was turned into a long dead-end street.

    Motorists ignore the signs and speed up Parker Street only to confront the wall separating the Chestnut Street bypass. Most cars whip U turns and race back down, creating a dangerous situation, neighbors say. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Motorists ignore the signs and speed up Parker Street only to confront the wall separating the Chestnut Street bypass. Most cars whip U turns and race back down, creating a dangerous situation, neighbors say. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Two gas stations and several homes on Chestnut were bought and razed along with a handful of homes on the east side of Parker Street, leaving those on the west side isolated behind an ugly wall.

    The final product, Ruth and Phyllis agree, is worse than they ever imagined.

    Instead of a quiet street where they socialized with neighbors all around, today Ruth and Phyllis sit at the end of a dead end road which, despite obvious signs, attracts a steady stream of oblivious drivers who speed up Parker until they slam on their brakes when confronted with the wall and whip U turns.

    No longer do Ruth and Phyllis look at trees and homes across the street. Today, they look at the wall and cars on Fillmore and at the new gas station across the street and on the interstate beyond.

    Rather than having a peaceful place to raise kids, they have a dangerous racetrack where cars roar around the curve. Or the cars sit and idle, producing clouds of exhaust and an obnoxious mix of engine noise and pounding bass from ridiculously loud car stereos.

    Parker Street Bypass Z“It’s horrible,” Phyllis said, waving her arm at the cars lined up 10 deep waiting for the light to change.

    “This is why I wanted the city to buy me out, too,” said Phyllis, who is 83 and lived in her home 55 years.

    Both women wanted the city to take their homes when they bought out neighbors’ homes as part of the $7 million bypass project.

    I wrote about them several times over the years and their pleas to be spared from the bypass.

    I never understood why the city thought it was OK to block their access to their homes, take away their street parking and replace it with a wall.

    I wrote that the city would never dream of building such a monstrosity in a more affluent neighborhood where homeowners with political clout and money would make their lives miserable.

    It seemed obvious to me the city should have ponied up the extra bucks to remove them from a nasty situation the city was creating.

    Actually, Ruth and Phyllis began begging the city and the Colorado Department of Transportation to buy them out beginning in 2002, when plans first surfaced to rebuild the entire Fillmore/I-25 interchange.

    Even then they sensed trouble. They knew the only way to make room for a massive new $50 million interchange would mean removing lots of homes and businesses in the modest, 1950s-era Mesa Springs neighborhood.

    It was obvious the gas stations and small houses on Chestnut were goners. But it wasn’t clear if Parker Street, the next block west, would be affected.

    Then the interchange project was put on indefinite hold. So the city decided in 2010 it could wait no longer to fix the troublesome Chestnut intersection. That’s when the bypass was proposed.

    But the city said there wasn’t enough money to buy the homes of Ruth and Phyllis. They’d have to live behind the ugly wall and deal with the inconvenience of lost access and parking.

    This is how Parker Street appeared in 2011, looking north.

    This is how Parker Street appeared in 2011, looking north.

    Construction lasted much of 2013 and it took just six months after the bypassed opened in December for the first motorist to plow into it late Sunday night.

    Both homeowners would love to sell and get out.

    This is how Parker Street appears now with the wall.

    This is how Parker Street appears now with the wall.

    But they believe no one will buy their homes now for what they were worth before the bypass.

    “I really want to move,” Phyllis said. “But after what they did to us, my real estate agent says I’ve lost $30,000 from the value of my home.”

    And Ruth believes her family will be stuck in its home for eternity.

    “Who in their right mind would buy our home?” she said. “We’ll never be able to sell.”

    I think it would be fair for the city to pay them the difference between what their houses were worth before the wall and what they can get for them today.

    But in the absence of such an offer, both Ruth and Phyllis sit and stew.

    They are waiting for the contractor to come repair the concrete and steel-reinforced wall, as city engineer Aaron Egbert promised will be done in a couple weeks.

    And they are hoping to get the weeds cut and trash collected from behind the wall, which Egbert also promises will happen. And they hope to get some new landscaping to replace the bushes that have died already.

    Otherwise, Ruth and Phyllis sit, with windows closed, even on hot days, to avoid the noise and fumes.

    And they worry about the next car to miss the curve.

    And they curse the city that would leave them in such a shameful mess.

    Ruth Wagner and Phyllis Smith want weeds cut in the lot behind the Chestnut Street bypass. They also say trash like liquor bottles and drug paraphernalia collect behind the wall. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Ruth Wagner and Phyllis Smith want weeds cut in the lot behind the Chestnut Street bypass. They also say trash like liquor bottles and drug paraphernalia collect behind the wall. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette


    Sat, April 13, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    Ruth Wagner stands in the front yard of her home on Parker Street and the concrete wall that is part of the Chestnut Street bypass project.

    Ruth Wagner stands in the front yard of her home on Parker Street and the concrete wall that is part of the Chestnut Street bypass project.

    How much does one family have to put up with in its neighborhood?

    Ruth and Joe Wagner certainly have endured more than their share and still have months to go before things get back to normal.

    Of course, how normal will it ever be after having the street in front of their house closed and ripped out and replaced by a six-foot-tall, tan concrete wall stamped to look like stone?

    Ruth Wagner explains how Parker Streets ends abruptly now and five neighbors' homes were purchased by the city and demolished to make room for the Chestnut Street bypass.

    Ruth Wagner explains how Parker Streets ends abruptly now and five neighbors’ homes were purchased by the city and demolished to make room for the Chestnut Street bypass.

    But that’s the future facing the Wagners in their home on Parker Street, a working-class neighborhood just south of Fillmore Street and west of Interstate 25.

    Parker Street Bypass ZTheir front yard and neighbors were sacrificed as the city works to fix a nightmare intersection where Fillmore, Chestnut Street and the I-25 on- and off-ramps converge.

    In 2010, city traffic engineers began holding public hearings to decide how to fix the intersection. Neighbors protested but the decision was made to reroute Chestnut and bypass Fillmore and I-25.

    It was too expensive to run Chestnut under Fillmore. So they decided Chestnut would cross Fillmore a block west — at the old Parker Street intersection.

    That meant turning Parker Street into a dead-end, taking out five houses and building a sweeping, curving roadway right past the Wagner’s front yard.

    The wall was built to buffer them from the traffic noise and headlights.

    But, let’s face it, it’s a wall.

    So instead of having a cherry tree in their little lawn, with a sidewalk and neighbors across the street, the Wagners have the wall and the prospect of commuter traffic zipping past, day and night, funneling cars trying to get from Holland Park and points north to downtown without getting on I-25.

    The construction is the just latest turmoil for the Wagners.

    I first wrote about them in 2008 when a tattoo parlor moved into the little strip mall next door.

    They were enduring loud motorcycles and late night shenanigans in the parking lot and a lot of suspicious activities that scared the couple and made them fear for the safety of their son, now 10.

    Their suspicions were confirmed when the Colorado Springs Police raided the parlor in a weapons and drug bust that June.

    In the ensuing years, they’ve had to endure the stress of the bypass project. They have seen longtime neighbors leave, their houses demolished, trees cut down.

    The Wagner house is obscured by the concrete wall, just right of the large tree.

    The Wagner house is obscured by the concrete wall, just right of the large tree.

    And anyone who has lived in a construction area knows how bad the past six months have been. Did I mention their sewer line was broken, requiring repair? Luckily, it was repaired by city crews.

    “We’re surviving it,” Ruth said. “It’s not enjoyable.”

    I asked her what was the worst part of the project.

    “The hardest part has been having people coming through our yard all the time,” she said.

    Folks with dogs have decided it’s easier to squeeze through an eight-inch gap between the wall and the Wagner’s fence and trespass across their yard rather than use the big, wide opening in the wall designed as a pedestrian walkway a few yards away.

    “It’s been a zoo,” she said. “We tell them they can’t come through. But they do anyway.”

    Neighbors of Ruth and Joe Wagner have been squeezing through this gap between the wall and their fence and trespassing through their yard.

    Neighbors of Ruth and Joe Wagner have been squeezing through this gap between the wall and their fence and trespassing through their yard.

    Call that insult on top of injury.

    Construction crews have been very kind to the Wagners, trying to accommodate them and keeping them up-to-date on various phases of construction. They even repainted the wall when the original red color left neighbors aghast.

    And when I visited Wednesday, one of the crew was trying to fill the gap in the wall with chainlink fencing to stop the short-cutting pedestrians from traipsing through the Wagners’ yard.

    The bypass is scheduled for completion in October and Ruth is dreading its grand opening.

    “It’s quiet now,” she said. “It’s going to get loud once the road opens. All I’ve got to look at is dirt and the highway. There are no houses. No trees.”

    She listed off all the neighbors who were bought out and moved away. She stays in touch with several. And she envies them.

    “I wish,” she said, “the city would have bought our house so we could have left, too.”

    This is how Parker Street appeared in 2011, looking north.

    This is how Parker Street appeared in 2011, looking north.


    This is how Parker Street appears now with the wall.

    This is how Parker Street appears now with the wall.




    Fri, February 24, 2012 by Bill Vogrin with 7 comments


    Ever danced the Hokey Pokey at a wedding reception?

    You know . . . Put your left foot in, put your left foot out. Shake it all about.

    Good. Then you’ll be ready for what Colorado Springs traffic engineers have in store when they rebuild the Interstate 25 interchange at Fillmore Street.

    The reconfigured interchange, as planned, will introduce a whole new dance step for drivers and it’s not unlike the Hokey Pokey silliness.

    The plans call for construction of a “diverging diamond” interchange.

    This graphic shows traffic flow in a "diverging diamond" interchange. Traffic on the Fillmore Street Bridge would follow a similar pattern as shown here.

    Interstate 25 and Fillmore Street as seen from GoogleEarth. Under the Diverging Diamond configuration, the interchange would be simplified because Chestnut Street will be realligned to the west and no longer intersecting with the southbound I-25 exit-entrance ramps.

    Not a familiar driving term?

    Don’t feel bad.

    Most of the world’s driver are immune to it.

    But just as the once-obscure “round-about” has become more common in our driving vocabulary (as in “these freaking round-abouts drive me freaking crazy”), so, too, will “diverging diamond.”

    Soon, actually, if the city lands a $10 million federal grant to pay for a makeover of the interchange, says Kathleen Krager, senior city traffic engineer.

    Rebuilding the interchange is too expensive. so the old bridge will remain. But that’s about all that will stay the same.

    Ty Pennington of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

    What Krager described to me sounds like an extreme makeover. All that will be missing is the annoying guy with the spiked hair, soul patch and megaphone.

    There will be, I fear, plenty of people shouting “Move that bus!” because the diverging diamond looks pretty confusing.

    Here’s how it will work.

    Motorists on Fillmore will criss-cross each other, just as they approach the bridge over I-25.

    The manuever will look just like my kids’ electric slot car race track where the cars duck back and forth across the tracks. (Of course, this usually creates spectacular slot-car crashes.)

    There will be traffic signals preventing spectacular crashes on Fillmore.


    This is a screen-capture from an animated fly-through created by Fisher Associates, a New York engineering firm.

    For example, westbound traffic on Fillmore will cross onto the far left lanes, or south side, of the bridge. In other words, traffic will be traveling on the wrong side of the bridge.

    Same for the eastbound cars. They will shift onto the north lanes to cross the bridge.

    Krager said the beauty (huh?) of the diverging diamond is that it creates no-wait exits onto the interstate.

    Westbound drivers, for example, will leave a traffic signal, move to the wrong side of the bridge and have a smooth left turn onto southbound I-25 before the traffic crosses back onto the normal side of the road.

    “It removes the left turns that cause conflict,” Krager said. “Everything becomes right turns.”

    This link takes you to an animated flyover that explains the diverging diamond.

    Click here to see another more rudimentary animated interchange.

    The diverging diamond is debated on this Minnesota website and includes actual video of a diverging diamond in action.

    Like I said, it’s just like doing the Hokey Pokey where turn yourself around.

    That’s what it’s all about.


    Sun, February 19, 2012 by Bill Vogrin with 5 comments


    About 30 percent of the $104 million interchange at Woodmen Road and Academy Boulevard was paid for using PPRTA tax revenue.

    Ever wonder when Centennial Boulevard will be finished south from Fillmore Street, linking it to Interstate 25 at Fontanero?

    Maybe you’ve wanted Old Ranch Road widened at Kettle Creek. Or you want West Colorado Avenue and South 8th Street rebuilt with sidewalks, curbs, gutters and bike lanes.

    Those projects, and dozens more, are on the city’s wish list and they will be prioritized by the Colorado Springs City Council at its Feb. 28 meeting.

    You can check out the list . It is item 4-A-3 on the agenda and starts on page 26.

    Make your priorities known by contacting your Council rep.

    Then, in November, you’ll get more input when transportation officials ask voters to agree to pay for them all.

    The list includes projects scattered around Colorado Springs and lumped in five categories: expansion/enhancement; modernization/safety; non-motorized; preservation/restoration; and transit.

    Here's how the Proby Parkway interchange looks from GoogleEarth.

    Each project is graded and divided into the “A” and “B” categories. There are about 50 projects on the “A” list.

    Ranking the projects is a complicated process and required balancing lots of demands, safety questions and funding considerations.

    Take Centennial’s expansion. It’s been planned since the 1980s as Mountain Shadows and Peregrine developed and the high-tech industry boomed along the Garden of the Gods Road corridor. Centennial was to be the shortcut that took pressure off I-25.

    Of course, the high-tech corridor looks more like death row now. But plans for a Veteran’s Administration clinic at Centennial and Fillmore and other developments are putting new pressure on the city to finish the boulevard.

    The city would like to coordinate it with the planned reconstruction of the Fillmore-I-25 interchange, which the state Department of Transportation hopes to complete using a $10 million federal grant.

    “The problem is it needs to be completed with local money,” said Kathleen Krager, senior city traffic engineer. “We need $9 million. It’s on the A list of projects.”

    The question is how to come up with the money.

    Since 2004, a voter-approved one-cent sales tax has generated about $60 million a year for road construction, maintenance, sidewalks, curbs and gutters and bus service. The tax revenue is administered by the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.

    But that tax is expiring in 2014 and without a source of revenue, the wish list will remain just that — wishes.

    “If we have funding, the Centennial project would be built, starting in 2015,” Krager said.

    Faithful Side Streets readers — both of you — know the value of the tax. Often I’ve written about projects.

    And when I studied the new list, I was amazed at the needs that still exist across the community.

    Take a look and let the city know your priorities.

    Then, in November, tell them again!



    Sun, September 18, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Harold and Phyllis Smith met in Victor, where she grew up the daughter of a gold miner in Winfield Scott Stratton‘s Independence and Cresson mines.  

    They married in 19445 and moved to Colorado Springs where he worked as a mortician and then laying wood floors. She worked at Penrose Hospital for years.  

    In the mid-1950s, they built a house on the north edge of town on Parker Street and raised two daughters. Harold and Phyllis lived there 50-plus years until his death in 2010.  

    Phyllis Smith, 81, is upset with a city plan to turn Parker Street into a dead end, leaving her and another neighbor stranded on a narrow access road, unable to even park in front of their homes.


    Under the city plan, unveiled at a recent public meeting, Parker Street would become a cul de sac and Chestnut Street would veer west, bypassing a dangerous intersection at Fillmore Street and Interstate 25. Two houses beyond the end of Parker would access their homes by a narrow road.


    The tidy little house is full of memories. But Phyllis is ready to sell it to the city and let it be torn down rather than suffer through what city engineers have planned for her.  


    Engineers want to re-route Chestnut Street to bypass a dangerous intersection at Fillmore Street and Interstate 25.  


     The plan, as outlined by city engineers at a recent neighborhood meeting, calls for five houses to be bought and removed on the east side of Parker to allow Chestnut to swing west. It will cross Fillmore at a new traffic signal and jog back to the east to reconnect with its original alignment.  


    Parker, meanwhile, will become a long dead end — a cul de sac in fancy terms.  


     That’s bad enough.  


     Even worse is what the plan would do to Mrs. Smith and her next-door neighbors, Ruth and Joe Wagner.  


    Both houses will sit beyond the end of Parker. To reach their driveway, the Wagners will drive past Mrs. Smith’s home on a tiny access road.  


    To reach her garage on the alley behind her house, Phyllis Smith, 81, must climb 19 stairs. She said it's too hard, especially after her broken hip and multiple surgeries. She can't get her groceries in the house or easily reach her car. So she parks in front of her house.


    Phyllis Smith loves her home, but she'd rather sell and let it be torn down than suffer through what the city has planned for her and Parker Street.


    Phyllis Smith's house on Parker Street. Next door, obscured by the spruce tree, is the home of Ruth and Joe Wagner. To get out of their gravel drive, the Wagners would have to back down the access road, past Mrs. Smith's house.



    Here's a rough map of the city's plan to reroute Chestnut Stree to bypass a dangerous intersection at Fillmore Street and Interstate 25. It involves buying and demolishing at least five houses on Parker Street and more on Chestnut.


    City Councilman Tim Leigh, who attended the meeting. He was not impressed with the engineers — “they seemed to be arrogant” — or their plan.
    “I think it’s a horrible plan,” Leigh said. “They are trying to push a plan too quickly when they have better options. It’s government gone bad. It’s out of control. I’m going to try and stop it.”
    Mike Chaves, acting city engineer, insists everyone is overreacting a tad.
     “The meeting was to get peoples’ concerns so we can address them,” he said. “Nothing is final. We don’t have an exact plan.

     “The drawings were rough and schematic. We’re going to make sure people have adequate access.”  

     Adequate for an 81-year-old with a bad hip, by gosh! 

    The five houses in the box on the right would be bought by the city and demolished while the two on the left would be left beyond the end of Parker Street, accessible by a narrow road and the alley.



    Wed, February 23, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    In 2007, Brian Perry had a new phone with Internet access and wanted to use it to surf network of Colorado Springs‘ traffic web cams during his daily commute down Interstate 25.

    But he quickly became frustrated because he couldn’t find a site where every cam was conveniently displayed.

    So Brian, a web developer, created his own site, www.JamJumper.com, to gather all the cams in one spot.

    Soon, Brian was able to scan the road ahead, using JamJumper, and decide whether to wait out a traffic jam or duck off I-25 onto the side streets to continue his commute.

    Here’s a closer look at JamJumper on Brian’s phone.

    Funny thing. Brian doesn’t make the daily commute anymore. He works from his home in Peregrine running his company JumpStart Focus.

    But he’s left his JamJumper up for anyone who wants to use it.

    It’s kind of like his laboratory that he uses in his web design business. He uses it to experiment on behalf of clients to research how Google and other search engines drive traffic to various sites.

    For example, he learned that by precisely labeling each web cam with specific intersection names, JamJumper seemed to vault to the top of results for Google searches  in Colorado Springs.

    Brian wasn’t done with JamJumper. He longed for a similar place to find web cams for Colorado ski areas. And to guage the weather.

    So he got busy. He created SnowGrabber.com and WeatherGetter.com and refined his designs.

    And he expanded SnowGrabber to provide web cams at ski areas around the world. Here’s a look at JamJumper:



  • Aren’t You Glad You Don’t Live on Parker Street?

    Sun, October 3, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    Just be glad you don’t live on Parker Street.

    The next couple years, life is going to change and folks there may not like it too much.

    It’s no fault of their own. They are just unlucky to live near a major traffic bottleneck where Fillmore Street intersects Chestnut and Interstate 25.

    It’s a mess. You can see the intersection below on FlashEarth.com:

    To address the nasty spider web of streets converging there, the city has conducted an extensive study of the corridor. Check it out at this link.

    On the web site, you’ll find links to seven alternatives considered by Colorado Springs traffic engineers. They run the gamut from simply widening Fillmore to six lanes to closing Chestnut Street to building a bypass to loop Chestnut traffic around the intersection.

    The engineers are leaning toward the design shown below in black. It is “Alternative 6″ and it involves building a bridge to carry Chestnut under Fillmore as well as a bypass over to Parker.

    To get help in deciding, the city’s traffic engineers want your opinion. They have posted a survey online and want you to let them know your thoughts.

    Here’s a link to the Fillmore Street Corridor Transit Study.

    If enough millions can be found to build the project, it would begin soon.

    Tim Roberts, senior transportation planner, said he hopes to have design work underway in 2011-12 and construction in 2013-14.

    There’s a sense of urgency because the city hopes to finance the bulk of the project with its share of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority sales tax revenue. The money the tax generates for capital improvements is scheduled to expire in 2014. The Fillmore project would be the last major project built with the funds.



    Sun, June 13, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    Last week, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus rolled into Colorado Springs.

    And for one week, it was the Greatest Neighborhood on Earth.

    At least the most unique neighborhood in town.

    It’s the only true mobile home neighborhood anywhere. Here it is, 30 silver coach cars lined up for a half mile along Interstate 25 and Monument Valley Park.

    You might think your neighbor is a clown. Or your homeowners association is populated by them. But this neighborhood is full of them. Here’s a look at Ringling’s class of clowns from its web site:

    I’ve seen the clowns perform and they are a funny bunch.

    In chatting with people on the train, I understand they are equally funny in private.

    Paul Lanquist, 59, of New Orleans, is a porter for the circus. He’s worked for Ringling Bros. 10 years. He said the clowns are “off the wall” at times and keep everyone laughing. Here’s a look at Paul, standing on the Uintah Street bridge:

    Paul said the clowns are pranksters. And they love birthday parties. In fact, Paul won’t tell anyone his birthday because he doesn’t want to get a pie in the face!

    “I’ve been real careful not to tell them,” he said, laughing.

    Another circus worker, Mike Murphy, 41, of New York, said there are different communities on the train. Performers and dancers tend to stick together, he said.

    Mike works in transportation, getting equipment off the train and to the arenas. He said working guys like him hang out together.

    The circus provides living quarters for its staff of 300. Newcomers generally get smaller rooms while long-time employees typically get roomier quarters. Most bring their own TVs. Some even hook up satellites to get programming. 

    It’s no uncommon to find childrens’ toys scattered about the train.

    The train was around for a week, stretching out from Uintah Street south to the pedestrian bridge over Interstate 25. Here is sits over Uintah.

    The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus train sits along Monument Vallely Park in downtown Colorado Springs on June 11, 2010. In the background is Interstate 25, the Bijou Street bridge and Cheyenne Mountain.

    Here’s a stylized look at the circus train from the circus web site:


  • ON SECOND THOUGHT . . . maybe new houses, road could SAVE the neighborhood

    Wed, November 4, 2009 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    For years, residents of Mesa Springs neighborhood fought to prevent Colorado Springs from extending Centennial Boulevard south from Fillmore Street to connect with Interstate 25 at Fontanero Street.

    They feared their 50-year-old neighborhood of modest homes would be wrecked by Centennial. They saw it creating a Bermuda Traffic Triangle between Centennial, Fillmore and I-25.

    Here is a look at the area from FlashEarth:


     But now a developer has contacted the city about building upwards of 500 homes — either single-family, townhomes, condos or apartments — on 47 acres on the west edge of the neighborhood.

    The property owner is MVS Development of Albuquerque, N.M. They hired NES Inc., a land planning and landscsape architecture company in the Springs, to get the land rezoned.

    Ron Bevans, an NES project manager, said the owners want the city to approve a broad rezoning plan. Part of the project would include consolidating a 17-acre landfill on the site into an 8-acre open space that would be capped.

    Here’s another look from FlashEarth:


    The project, which Bevans described as in its infancy stage, would include building a big chunk of the Centennial extension.

    Curb and gutter exist for a half mile or so south of Fillmore, said James Mayerl, a city planner who is reviewing the MVS project. And Mayerl said the new project might be the impetus for actually completing Centennial.

    In fact, the city is studying the transportation plan for the corridor, looking for ways to take pressure off the intersection of Fillmore and I-25. The long-planned Centennial extension would be a  key piece of any plan.

    Bevans said his clients do not have blueprints or a builder for the project. They simply are preparing the site for eventual development and alerting neighbors that the process is underway.

    Many neighbors are apprehensive about the proposal. They already suffered the loss of 127 neighborhood homes when I-25 was realligned a decade ago and the sound wall erected. And they recently suffered the closure of their neighborhood school, Zebulon Pike Elementary.

    But some neighbors, like Carol Gravenstein, view the project and the extension of Centennial as a way to resurrect the school if enough new families move into Mesa Springs.


  • LIKE A ROLLING STONE! Life below Pikeview Quarry

    Wed, September 23, 2009 by Bill Vogrin with no comments


      Most people look out their back windows and, beyond the fence, can see into their neighbor’s kitchen or family room or bedrooms.

     Not true for folks in Oak Valley Ranch, a neighborhood tucked in the foothills between Mountain Shadows and Peregrine on Colorado Springs‘ northwest edge.

     Especially for families living on Front Royal, Coldwater and Hollandale drives.

     They back up to Castle Concrete Co.’s  Pikeview Quarry. Above is a 2001 photo of the quarry from The Gazette’s archives.


     We’re not talking Fred Flintstone here, either. This is the real thing, visible for miles along Interstate 25, just south of the Air Force Academy.

    Lately, Oak Valley Ranch residents have had front-row seats for dramatic landslides that have sent upwards of 2 million tons of limestone cascading down the mountainside.


     The first slide occured Dec. 2, 2008, and dumped and estimated 1.5 million tons of limestone into the pit at the base of the cliff. The slide is obvious in the photo, above, taken the same day by The Gazette’s Carol Lawrence.

     But the mountain wasn’t done rockin’ and rollin’ yet. It let loose again Sept. 13 with a blast that sounded like thunder to neighbors who ran from their homes and ate dinner on their patios, watching as boulders the size of locomotives plunged down the cliff, dropping another 250,000 tons before it was done. 

    Here’s a look at the two slides.


     Reader Chris Dorry posted on YouTube video of the slide that you can watch it on this link. At about the two minute mark, you’ll actually see landslide activity as rock breaks off and rolls. My friends at KOAA TV NewsFirst 5 also got some nice footage you can view here.

    Here’s another cool video clip  that gives a great view of the landslide.

    Here’s a photo of the action captured by neighbor Rob Hellem, who heard what he described as “rolling thunder” during dinner around 6 p.m. and looked out to see all heck breaking loose.


    Experts say they expect further movement in the quarry.

    M.L. “Mac” Shafer is vice president of Transit Mix Aggregates, which owns Castle Concrete and the Pikeview Quarry - a complex of about 100-mineable acres on a 190-acre tract.

     Transit Mix owned the Queens Quarry above the Garden of the Gods, which operated from about 1955 to 1989 and now has been reclaimed. The company also operates the Black Canyon Quarry behind Cedar Heights. And it has a sand mine along South Academy Boulevard.

    Castle Concrete bought the Pikeview in 1969. It was operated for years by Peter Kiewit and Sons, Shafer said. It’s now known as Kiewit Western Corp.

    Shafer said geologists agree that more landslides will occur. He said the limestone on the surface of the mountain sits on a layer of clay attached to the decomposed granite base that makes up Pikes Peak and much of the Front Range.

    A year of steady snow and rain has saturated the limestone, coupled with the freeze-thaw cycle, caused it to slide, Shafer said.

    On Feb. 12, federal Mine Safety and Health Administration officials issued five citations to Transit Mix and fined the company $2,564 for safety violations in connection with the slide. Shafer said the officials accused the company of mining too much of the base of the mountain, causing it to become unstable.

    Since then, the company has been limited to removing its stockpiles of crushed limestone. The mine became more of a classroom for geologists and other scientists from around the world who have come to study the landslide.

    After the Sept. 13 landslide, the mine has been shut down. Most of the stockpiles are exhausted. The conveyors of the rock crushers are sunning beds for bobcats. Deer and other wildlife are the only thing moving about in the mine.

    Sophisticated laser sensors watch the mountainside, measuring it every few hours for any movement. Shafer said the company is developing a plan it hopes to present next June for possibly reopening the mine and finishing reclamation efforts.

    Neighbors, meanwhile, are wondering if there’s any danger in rocks rolling into their backyards. Look at these bad boys hanging from the top of the latest slide. Shafer estimates the larger boulder on the right weighs at 20,000 tons! Like a locomotive perched on the mountainside.


    Shafer said such a disaster is not likely. Below is a look at the mine, prior to the landslides, from GoogleEarth. It shows the pit.


    For now, things are calm again. But, eventually, experts expect the mine to break loose again. They are especially watching a fault at the apex of the mine above the most recent slide. On a recent hike with a geologist, Shafer said he was able to actually look into the fault and see the spot where the limestone, clay and granite meet.

    For now, the landslide have not destroyed all the reclamation efforts done over the past decade on the southern rim of the mine. More than 2,000 trees have been planted on the ledges of the mine by volunteers with the Colorado Mountain Reclamation Foundation.