Dirtwork nears completion on controversial underpass
Construction on the new Leland Creek Underpass in Fraser has begun, despite a contentious relationship between the town of Winter Park and the site’s developer, Cornerstone Winter Park Holdings, LLC.
A recent post on the Winter Park Underpass Facebook page stated that the earthwork west of the train tracks is nearing completion, and that shoofly rail and ties are already on site. The hope is to complete the project before winter.
Public opinion of the new crossing appears to be mostly positive, while the project is shrouded in legal turmoil.
“It is a real public safety concern to not have it unencumbered, ingress or egress, for emergency vehicles,” Winter Park resident Tim O’Connor told Sky-Hi News.
The underpass will be a grade-separated railroad crossing, effectively replacing the current at-grade crossing on Kings Cross Road in Winter Park. It’s located just a couple hundred feet away from the current crossing, and a new road will be built to connect it to Highway 40 and Grand Park Drive.
The underpass comes after the town of Fraser, Union Pacific Railroad, and West Mountain Metropolitan District, which represents Cornerstone Winter Park Holdings, came to a construction and management agreement in October 2014.
The project is meant to address safety concerns at the current site. An underpass means not having to drive over the tracks, and eliminates the chance of emergency vehicles like ambulances or fire trucks having to wait on a train. It is also meant to alleviate traffic congestion and stalling during train crossings or malfunctions. The structure will become part of Fraser once completed, and the King Cross Road crossing will be closed.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved an amended application for the project in December 2014, the final measure needed before construction could begin.
Cornerstone is funding 70 percent of the project, about $7.06 million while Union Pacific Railroad is funding $2.4 million.
Former Winter Park Mayor Harold Teverbaugh signed an amendment to the town’s annexation agreement with Cornerstone in 2007, the terms of which dictated that the town pay a fixed $1.75 million hard construction fee, as well as to fund the road extension.
Winter Park has not honored the agreement, and filed a lawsuit against Cornerstone in 2013. A joint motion for settlement in December 2013, in favor of the plantiff, Winter Park.
The settlement stated that Winter Park’s obligation to fund the road extension or the underpass is subject to the annual appropriation of funds to satisfy such obligations, and the Winter Park Town Council retains sole discretion to determine whether to appropriate such funds.
In the ruling, District Court Judge Mary Hoak also gave Cornerstone guidelines and deadlines for requesting funding from the Town. It also determined that, aside from a single modification of the order, the annexation agreement and its first amendment would remain intact as written.
Cornerstone has rebuked Winter Park for not upholding its end of the agreement.
“The town manager and members of the town council of Winter Park are not being truthful or transparent about the town’s obligations with the community,” wrote Jack Bestall, consultant to Cornerstone, in a letter to the editor in a November 2014 edition of Sky-Hi News. “The town’s actions have serious legal and financial consequences and are undermining its credibility with the public, its vendors and anyone thinking of conducting business with the town.”
A blog named Winterparkunderpass.com was created in support of the project in 2014. Since then the website has publicly criticized the town of Winter Park and Drew Nelson, the town manager. It also released a series of documents including the annexation agreement, the motion for settlement and even correspondence between Nelson and Cornerstone Winter Park President Clark Lipscomb.
A search on the Winterparkunderpass.com domain name lists the site’s administrator as Cornerstone Holdings, LLC.
In a letter from Lipscomb to Nelson dated Aug. 13, 2014, released by Winterparkunderpass.com, Lipscomb responded to an earlier letter from Nelson and sheds some light on Winter Park’s concerns with the project. Lipscomb implied in the letter that some of the town’s major concerns were the changing of the underpass’s location, concerns regarding police jurisdiction in the area and Cornerstone’s failure to address their commentary about the design of the underpass.
“The fact you have represented the town in a manner that is inaccurate and disingenuous at best is greatly troubling,” wrote Lipscomb in the letter.
In an email exchange with Sky-Hi News, Nelson voiced displeasure over the project with what he called “unsafe operating conditions and damaging activities” that have occurred recently on Kings Crossing Road.
Nelson sent photos of construction equipment on the road near the train crossing, and a series of tires strewn out along the side of the road.
“It is the role of the town organization to implement the laws and policies established by the Winter Park Town Council,” Nelson wrote. “We hold all developers accountable to following the permitting processes required to maintain public safety and protect our investments in infrastructure.
“We strive for integrity, professionalism and fairness as representatives of the Winter Park Town Council. With all of the positive momentum in Winter Park, it is unfortunate to have to spend time on a matter that was settled some time ago.”
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