GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - City Council on Thursday unanimously endorsed the Colorado Department of Transportation's preferred alignment for a new Grand Avenue Bridge over the Colorado River.
The so-called Alternative 3 would replace the existing Highway 82 bridge with a new one carrying Highway 82 traffic from Grand Avenue south of the river, then curving west to a reconfigured intersection at Sixth and Laurel streets north of the river, near the Interstate 70 interchange.
The preferred alignment removes the two-block stretch of Sixth between Pine Street and Laurel from the current Highway 82 route.
The alignment and bridge designs are to be further evaluated by local, state and federal transportation officials through a federally required environmental assessment (EA) that is set to begin early in 2013.
The 7-0 decision at Thursday night's regular Glenwood Springs City Council meeting to sign a resolution backing the bridge plan came over the objections of a new group calling itself Citizens to Save Grand Avenue.
"We don't think the council has a good grasp of what the community really thinks on this issue," said group chairman John Haines. "All this does is put as much or more traffic running down Grand Avenue."
The group is trying to convince the city government to pressure CDOT to back away from planning a new bridge on Grand, in favor of a new process to plan for and build a long-talked-about Highway 82 bypass somewhere through or around town.
Haines and others who spoke at the meeting said the combination of a new bridge and recommendations contained in a draft Highway 82 Access Control Plan to limit pedestrian crossings and vehicle movements on and off of Grand Avenue would destroy the downtown business district and "bisect" Glenwood Springs.
"The bridge itself will seriously injure the city, but this access control plan will kill the city," said Dean Moffat of Glenwood Springs.
"The only power we have as a city is to say no to this bridge and put it in a place where we can have a bypass instead," Moffat said. "Please, stop it right here."
But council members and several other citizens who spoke at the meeting said the current 60-year-old bridge needs to be replaced. Doing so will not preclude a separate effort to plan for a future bypass or alternate highway routes, they said.
"Saying no to this bridge is not an option, and saying yes to an alternate route is still an option," Councilman Stephen Bershenyi said.
But planning for that future new route will require some consensus on where it should be located, Bershenyi said, citing various options such as the railroad corridor along the Roaring Fork River, or Midland Avenue.
So far, that consensus has not been reached, he said.
"This is a good alternative," Bershenyi said of the preferred bridge alignment. "It affords us the opportunity to continue to improve conditions in this city."
Councilman Todd Leahy said he shares the Save Grand Avenue group's desire to enhance the downtown experience. The new bridge can accomplish that, he said.
"This is an opportunity to make Grand Avenue better now, not 10, 20 or 30 years from now," Leahy said in reference to the time it could take to plan for and build a new highway route.
"We also want to enhance Grand Avenue, and we have an opportunity to do that now," he said.
Charlie Willman, chairman of the Downtown Development Authority, said the DDA also supported the council's resolution and the upcoming EA process for the bridge. At the same time, the process needs to take into account how best to accommodate pedestrians in the downtown area, he said.
The resolution passed by the council acknowledges the more than year-long effort by CDOT officials so far to involve local citizens, business owners and other stakeholders in determining the best option for a new bridge.
Council did include additional language before approving the document related to making sure pedestrian access is maintained, and that traffic impacts during the bridge construction be properly mitigated.
The new bridge is slated to receive up to $59 million from CDOT's special Colorado Bridge Enterprise Fund. The fund was set up specifically to address aging and structurally deficient bridges in the state.
CDOT is planning another open house on Jan. 9, 2013 to showcase some of the possible highway and pedestrian bridge types, as well as the latest design options for the intersection at Sixth and Laurel and access to I-70 and plans for traffic mitigation during the planned construction phase in 2014 and 2015.