In a response to requests, the Federal Highway Administration extended the Public Review Period for Colorado Department of Transportation's (CDOT) US 50 Corridor East Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from July 29 to Aug. 12.

In a response to requests, the Federal Highway Administration extended the Public Review Period for Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) US 50 Corridor East Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from July 29 to Aug. 12.

The EIS is the first of many steps in improving the Highway 50 corridor between Pueblo and the Kansas state line. The area affected is about 150 miles long.

"The ultimate improvements planned for this section of US 50 will provide for a safer roadway, on or near the existing US 50, that maintains a reasonable traffic flow and speed for movement of people and goods along and through the Lower Arkansas Valley, while accommodating future transportation needs," according to CDOT.

Recently CDOT held four separate public hearings in Pueblo, Otero, Bent and Prowers counties, to provide opportunity for the public to comment on the US 50 Corridor East Draft Tier EIS. Multiple requests were received during the public hearings to extend the public review and comment period.

A request for an extension was one of many requests made by the public during sessions held recently throughout the area.

The EIS presents options including moving Highway 50 between 1 and 10 miles north of the existing line, moving the highway between 1 and 10 miles south of the existing line or keeping it on its existing line.

CDOT recognized the following as its preferred routes:

Pueblo to Fowler: Alternative 2 which moves the highway south of the existing highway

Fowler: No alternative could be identified at this time as both options (moving it north and moving it south) have comparable effects on the community and built environment. Will be studied in Tier 2.

Manzanola: Alternative 1 is preferred and moves the highway north

Rocky Ford: Alternative 1 is preferred which moves the highway north. It is closer to the community than the proposed southern route.

Swink: No alternative could be identified at this time as both options (moving it north and moving it south) have comparable effects on the community and built environment. Will be studied in Tier 2.

La Junta: Alternative 2 is preferred because is it is shorter and closest to town. It moves the highway about 2 miles south of La Junta.

Las Animas: Alternative 1 is preferred and it moves the highway north of the town.

But the preferred routes have been met with opposition from local people as they want to know why existing Highway 50 can't be updated and improved.

Many people felt moving the highway from its existing route could wipe out the municipalities affected. Additionally, many of the proposed routes could cut into farming and ranching land - a leading economic factor of the area.

Although CDOT officials have said they will pick routes with the least possible economic impact to the area, Chuck Hanagan, a farmer in Swink, said the highway department isn't looking at the big picture.

"You talk about economic development, but agriculture is economic development," he said. "You aren't talking about the impacts of putting a road through your property."

Tom Tomky, a farmer south of Rocky Ford, echoed Hanagan's opinions. A multi-generational farmer, he is concerned farming won't be an option for his grandchildren. "If our towns die, they (his grandchildren) don't have a future. We don't need a mega-mega-project funded by taxpayers."

His son Chris, also a next-generation farmer, said they have spent a lifetime - many lifetimes - creating an infrastructure to sustain their farm.

"Everything you've lived for your whole life is cut in half," Chris Tomky said about a proposed route that literally cuts the family farm in half.

"If there's a four-lane bypass around this area, they'll put it on cruise control and go right into Pueblo," he said.

Randall Roberson of La Junta said four-laning Highway 50 will take care of many problems - especially traffic accidents which was stated as a reason for the studies. Currently, there are just a few passing areas between Pueblo and Las Animas and CDOT feels this has led to an increase in traffic accidents along the way.

Kathy Davis of La Junta said discussions on moving Highway 50 aren't new. She said in 2006, there had been 40 years of studies and now it's been another 10 years of studies. But the real problem, she said, is addressing Highway 50 from Fowler to Pueblo - immediately.

Kimmi Lewis, who lives south of La Junta and is currently running for Colorado House District 64, said she has driven other roads that were once highways and later had the highway bypassed around the towns. "People don't stop," she said. "They drive right by. You can guarantee, when I get elected, the first thing I'll do is ask for an audit of CDOT."

Brian Burney, local business owner, said the people along Highway 50 need to work together to deal with issues and they might find solutions, regardless of what happens with Highway 50.

For convenient locations where the US 50 Corridor East Tier 1 Draft EIS is available for public viewing and for additional information about the document, visit the project website at www.codot.gov/projects/us50e.