GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - City council and members of the city's transportation commission clashed Thursday over a possible plan to limit traffic and pedestrian movements at a busy downtown intersection.
"This plan is for the benefit of getting [highway] traffic through Glenwood Springs as quickly as possible ... at the expense of local traffic circulation," transportation commissioner Chris McGovern said during a joint work session with council to discuss the Colorado Department of Transportation's (CDOT) draft Highway 82/Grand Avenue Access Control Plan.
However, several council members said the access plan is an opportunity to calm traffic impacts and make the downtown area more pedestrian-friendly.
"I'm surprised to hear some of you want to keep Grand Avenue as it is," Councilman Todd Leahy said. Between the bridge project and the access plan, Leahy said, the city and CDOT have a chance to address vexing traffic issues.
Most of the discussion centered around a CDOT recommendation to limit vehicle movements and pedestrian crossings at Eighth and Grand once the new Grand Avenue Bridge that is currently being planned is built.
CDOT has recommended doing away with the traffic lights at both Eighth and 10th streets and allowing only right-hand turns onto and off of Grand at those intersections. The point is to ease traffic flow through the downtown area and prevent back-ups.
East-west pedestrian crossings would also be eliminated at those two intersections. Signalized, full-movement intersections, including pedestrian crossings, would remain at Ninth and 11th streets under the draft plan.
Also envisioned as part of the plan, once the bridge is replaced, is a new pedestrian crossing away from the highway traffic under the south end of the bridge in the 700 block of Grand Avenue.
The city's engineering staff has backed CDOT's recommendations for the downtown area, as city council prepares to consider signing onto the plan this coming March.
But the access plan recommendations for the downtown area have become a hot-button issue in the growing debate over the bridge replacement plan.
"We should stop this process right now, and we should stop the bridge right now," said McGovern, who agrees with the newly formed Citizens to Save Grand Avenue that planning efforts should be redirected toward studying a new route for Highway 82 instead.
"That's not what we're here to talk about right now," Councilman Leo McKinney shot back. "We're here to talk about an access control plan."
The transportation commission has so far been unable to reach a consensus on the larger access plan in its advisory role to council.
Thursday's joint work session was the first of three that will focus on the various recommendations for Highway 82 as it passes through Glenwood Springs from Sixth Street, south along Grand Avenue and onto South Glen Avenue before leaving the city limits.
CDOT and city officials hope to sign an intergovernmental agreement by March 21, 2013, formally adopting the access plan.
"All I can say is, if you do away with the lights at Eighth Street, CDOT better store them away somewhere, because I think we'll want to have them back," said Don Gillespie, who also sits on the transportation commission.
Other transportation commissioners said the recommended access controls have merit, but should be further studied before they're implemented.
"These recommendations do have to be implemented along with streetscaping and traffic calming in order to work," said Ralph Trapani, a longtime CDOT project manager and consultant who sits on the city's transportation commission.
"Any time you change traffic or pedestrian patterns, it is scary, but people do adapt," he said.