Rachel Riley, The Gazette, Author at Colorado Politics

Rachel Riley, The GazetteDecember 2, 20173min3900

A passenger rail that would cart passengers up and down the Front Range remains a long way off.

Construction likely wouldn’t begin on the project for at least seven years – and only if a host of other funding and planning components come together, according to proposal a state commission submitted to the Colorado General Assembly on Friday.

The commission, appointed in July to explore ways to make such a system a reality, is asking for $8.7 million from the state over three years to take the first steps toward completing the project. The money would be used to hire a project manager and support staff who would gather public input and prepare a plan that would define the passenger rail route and station locations and provide cost estimates.

While the route is far from finalized, state transportation officials have discussed a line stretching from Fort Collins to Pueblo, which would probably cost between $5 billion and $15 billion, according to CDOT.

The commission’s road map entails five “phases,” including final design and construction. The 15-year process would include developing a financial plan, determining who would operate the system and acquiring right-of-way. Just completing initial design plans, along with the required planning studies and reviews, is estimated to cost $150 million to $300 million, according to the document.

The discussion of passenger rail has risen to the forefront of Colorado’s transportation landscape as state, local and regional leaders struggle to maintain roads and build new infrastructure with existing budgets as the population rises along the Front Range. Proponents see rail as a more efficient, long-term transportation solution than adding lanes to overburdened highways like Interstate 25.

Though funding and other formidable challenges remain, commission member Jill Gaebler called the submission to the Legislature an “exciting” development.

“This is the first time that we see a light at the end of this tunnel for a sustainable transportation mode along the Front Range,” said Gaebler, president pro-tem of the Colorado Springs City Council.

The commission is also considering options for adding stops in Pueblo and Walsenburg to Amtrak’s Southwest Chief line. The group was initially established in 2014 to come up with a plan to repair more than 100 miles of track on Amtrak’s Chicago-to-Los Angeles line, which has stops in Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad.


Rachel Riley, The GazetteNovember 15, 20171min3620

The El Paso County Republican Party announced a new executive director on Monday. Party leadership appointed Cassandra Sebastian to the position, which had been vacant for several months. The title was last held by Daniel Cole, who left the organization in May to become the communications director for the Colorado GOP. Sebastian's political career began in 2011, when she helped found the College Republicans at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. She has worked for several candidate campaigns and political nonprofits, assisting with research, social media, communications, events and fundraising. The county party's chairman, Joshua Hosler, recognized Sebastian in an email notice on Tuesday. The party's leadership changed in September after its past chairman, Trevor Dierdorff, resigned. Hosler, previously the group's vice chairman, was elected as his replacement by the party's executive committee during a tumultuous meeting.


Rachel Riley, The GazetteOctober 21, 20176min389
The state will kick in about 70 percent of the $350 million needed to widen Interstate 25 from Monument to Castle Rock if the project succeeds in getting a highly competitive federal grant. The Colorado Transportation Commission on Thursday voted unanimously, with one member absent, to pass a resolution that would tentatively designate about $250 […]

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Rachel Riley, The GazetteOctober 21, 20174min2710

A Colorado Springs thoroughfare that for months was a jumble of traffic drums and restricted lanes will now pay tribute to a beloved local Pearl Harbor survivor, retired Navy Lt. James “Jim” Downing.

The new Interstate 25 bridge over Cimarron Street will forever bear his name.

Downing, 104, is one of the oldest living survivors of the attack, which left more than 2,400 people dead.

“Everybody is a hero in my estimation,” he told a small crowd at the ceremony. “I accept this honor on behalf of those veterans and everyone who deserves to have their name on the bridge.”

The structure is part of a $113 million revamp of the interchange that’s been in the works for more than two years.

During the last legislative session, both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly unanimously passed a bill making Downing the bridge’s namesake. The measure was signed into a law by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May.

“Many have said that the Cimarron bridge serves as the gateway to our city -0 all the more reason it’s fitting to name it after Jim Downing, who so well encompasses the values of Colorado Springs,” said state Rep. Dan Nordberg, a Republican from Colorado Springs who co-sponsored the bill. “I’m glad we can finally honor him in the same way he’s honored us all these years.”

Downing was ashore when Japanese fighters and bombers struck the Hawaiian base on Dec. 7, 1941. Then a sailor aboard the USS West Virginia, he found the ship aflame and sinking after it was struck by a barrage of torpedoes. He slid down the gun barrel of another ship to board his own, where he fought to keep the fire from spreading. He memorized the names of the dead and wounded, later writing their families.

Downing recounts his experience, and the role his faith played, in his third book, “The Other Side of Infamy.”

Of the roughly 84,000 men and women who survived the tragedy, Downing is one of only about 2,000 that remain. He is also one of the original members of the prominent Colorado Springs-based ministry, The Navigators.

He began with light-hearted remarks at the ceremony, relaying a story from his childhood: On a week-long road trip from Missouri to Florida in his family’s Ford Model T, his father pieced together maps to navigate dirt roads. But what the map didn’t show was that many of the creeks and streams they would need to cross had no bridges, Downing said.

“So I probably appreciate bridges more than any of you,” he said, eliciting a few laughs from the audience.

The structure is part of a $113 million revamp of the interchange that’s been in the works for more than two years.

“We all need effective transportation in our communities and we are always grateful to those who have protected our country from threats,” said El Paso County Commissioner Stan VanderWerf, whose district includes the interchange, said during the ceremony. “What a great day to acknowledge both of these.”

While the interchange is now fully functional, there’s still some landscaping work left to be done, said Michelle Peulen, a regional spokeswoman for CDOT. In addition to highway improvements, the effort has included work on pedestrian bridges and trails in the area, as well as reconstruction of part of Upper Fountain Creek.

The project will be finished by the end of the year, Peulen said.