GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - City Council is being asked tonight to officially endorse the preferred alignment for a new Grand Avenue Bridge that was recently chosen by the Colorado Department of Transportation's project planning team.
At the same time, a group of Glenwood Springs residents and business owners is gearing up to apply political pressure to halt planning for a new bridge in favor of a redirected effort to take State Highway 82 off Grand Avenue altogether.
A proposed resolution before city council at its regular meeting tonight seeks the council's formal endorsement of CDOT's planning process to date, which led to the recent selection of a preferred bridge alignment.
Known as Alternative 3, the alignment would take the new highway bridge from Grand Avenue over Seventh Street and the railroad tracks south of the Colorado River, then curving west over the river and Interstate 70 to a reconfigured intersection at Sixth and Laurel streets near the I-70 interchange.
Since November of 2011, "a comprehensive and collaborative public involvement plan for the project has been implemented and sustained, involving numerous local citizens and stakeholders," reads the draft resolution that's before council.
That planning effort has involved some 1,500 citizens and stakeholders through one-on-one meetings, group planning sessions, public open houses, meetings with elected officials and information displays at public events, according to the draft resolution.
City council members, through individual comments at previous meetings, have all said they support the preferred alignment. But this is the first time the council as a whole has been asked to take a stand on the issue.
And, it won't come without some pressure from a new group calling itself Citizens to Save Grand Avenue.
"We want council to stand up and say the city does not want Highway 82 on Grand Avenue," said the group's chairman, John Haines, a longtime proponent of a Highway 82 bypass through Glenwood Springs.
"They can do that, just like they did with CDOT's previous bridge plan," Haines said of efforts in the late 1990s to widen the existing bridge. City council objected to those plans, and the CDOT backed away from the effort.
The new bridge replacement project is slated to receive up to $59 million from the special Colorado Bridge Enterprise Fund, which specifically focuses on upgrading and replacing deficient bridges in the state.
Over the past year, CDOT's team of planning and engineering consultants worked with local officials to evaluate more than a dozen different bridge options before arriving at the preferred alignment.
Project officials have emphasized that the Bridge Enterprise money is meant to address problems associated with an existing deficient bridge, rather than address traffic congestion on Grand Avenue. A new bridge would not necessarily preclude the opportunity for a future bypass route to be considered, according to the project's planners.
But Haines said planning for a new bridge on Grand Avenue does not take into account the likelihood that traffic volumes will continue to increase.
"CDOT is looking at solving today's problems today, and is not looking at the future," he said. "These are not two different issues, and now 60 million of our tax dollars are at stake here with this decision."
Haines said a petition drive that begun over the summer to convince city council to ask CDOT to halt the bridge planning has garnered more than 600 signatures. Members of the group are also planning to comment at tonight's city council meeting, he said.
If the current council does not act, Haines said the group is considering a class action lawsuit against CDOT to halt the planning effort. It may also put up candidates to run for three city council seats that will be up for election next April, Haines said.
CDOT's preferred bridge alternative is to be further evaluated through a formal environmental assessment taking place next year and continuing into early 2014. Actual construction is not expected to begin until late 2014 or early 2015.
Tonight's regular city council meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at Glenwood Springs City Hall, 101 W. Eighth St.