GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Pedestrians will always have a way to cross the Colorado River during the construction of a new, remodeled Grand Avenue Bridge, even if cars will not.
That's according to project consulting engineer Craig Gaskill, who also said the pedestrian bridge will likely be completed well before the larger Grand Avenue Bridge realignment.
"We've learned from interviews that the pedestrian connection is even more important to some downtown businesses than the vehicle connection," he said.
It its current form, the new bridge will carry traffic south from Grand Avenue to a new interchange at Sixth and Laurel Streets. But Gaskill said the alignment of the new pedestrian bridge would likely remain unchanged from its current form.
"The plan right now is to essentially follow the existing alignment," he said. "On the north side, it will be a little bit north of where it lands now."
The existing pedestrian bridge was built in 1985. At the time, it replaced a clattering metal walkway barely three feet wide that was attached to the side of the Grand Avenue Bridge.
According to Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Region 3 Manager Joe Elsen, studies have shown that the 1985 bridge is too narrow to accommodate existing peak traffic.
"The bridge is highly used, and not wide enough for current use rates," he said.
Accordingly, early plans for a new pedestrian bridge call for a wider model, expanding it from its current width of 10 to 14 feet to about 20 feet wide.
"There has also been discussion of separate bike and pedestrian lanes on the bridge," Gaskill said.
In addition, planners are considering using the new pedestrian bridge to carry several gas, water and internet lines now affixed to the bottom of the existing Grand Avenue Bridge across the Colorado River.
Running those lines under the river would be hugely expensive, Elsen said, and the existing pedestrian bridge is not designed to carry them.
For such a plan to work, the new pedestrian bridge must be completed before demolition on the Grand Avenue Bridge can even began.
"We can't take the bridge down until we have a place to put the utilities," said Elsen.
Discussions on the aesthetics and function of the pedestrian bridge are still in the early stages, and the project team is still seeking public input on the subject.
There are several options under discussion for the overall design of the structure, including a long steel arch design, a design modeled after the famous bridge over the harbor in Sydney, Australia, and a model that features several cables extending in either direction from a pillar in the center of the bridge.
Also unresolved are designs for the stairs and on-ramps on either side of the bridge. One design option features a ramp touching down on the south side between Seventh Street and the railroad tracks. It would likely feature at least one switchback to carry people in wheelchairs or on bikes from the street level onto the bridge at an easy grade.
The staircase already in place near that site would likely remain under current plans, as would a staircase connecting the bridge to the Hot Springs pool parking lot on the north side.
Another option for the south end of the bridge would be to build an 8- to 12-foot-wide sidewalk connecting the bridge to Grand Avenue, which would start between Seventh and Eighth Streets.
But Gaskill said this would only be feasible if the southbound left turn lane at Eighth and Grand were eliminated. Separate discussions of CDOT's Access Control Plan for Grand Avenue have touched on the idea of limiting drivers to right turns only at the intersection of Eighth and Grand, to improve traffic flow.
On the north side of the pedestrian bridge, one possible feature now under discussion would be a bike and pedestrian connection to North River Street, which connects in turn to Two Rivers Park.
In a separate but related effort, the Glenwood Springs Downtown Development Authority is preparing to solicit bids for a study of urban design possibilities on both sides of the pedestrian bridge. The areas under consideration will include parts of Sixth Street on the north side of the river, along with sections of Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Streets on the south side.
The study will examine the potential for landscaping, sidewalk-widening, public seating, and an overlook from the pedestrian bridge, among other features, according to DDA President Leslie Bethel.
The new pedestrian bridge will be built with money from the Colorado Bridge Enterprise Fund, and a lengthy federal review process is required before construction can begin.
As a result, according to CDOT engineer Joe Elsen, no final decision on the bridge design is expected before the late spring of 2014.
"We are still winnowing the various alternatives, and taking public input," he said.