GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Members of a group opposed to the reconstruction and widening of the Grand Avenue Bridge are concerned that the bridge project, combined with a separate Access Control Plan being developed for Grand Avenue, could increase the average speed of traffic on Grand Avenue by up to 15 miles per hour.
Members of Citizens to Save Grand Avenue acknowledge, however, that their fear is based less on hard data than what they call common sense knowledge about the effect of a wider bridge and fewer traffic signals.
The current speed limit on Grand Avenue in downtown Glenwood is 25 miles per hour, but C. Jacobson and others worry that cars would be tempted to go as fast as 45 mph if the proposed bridge and access changes are approved.
"The current bridge is narrow, so you have no choice but to slow down," said Jacobson, a member of the citizens group who owns property along the route.
She has been visiting various Grand Avenue businesses in recent days to share her concerns with business owners about increased speed.
"When they widen that bridge and eliminate traffic lights, you can expect traffic speed to go up," she said.
The traffic lights in question are at Eighth and 10th streets. Over time, the draft access plan calls for removing those signals, eliminating pedestrian crosswalks, and limiting the intersections to right turns only. If local officials approve the plan this spring, that change could come at Eighth Street as soon as when the new Grand Avenue Bridge is completed.
Yet Dan Roussin, Region 3 permit manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said there are no plans to increase speed limits on Grand Avenue in connection with the bridge project or the access plan. He argued that traffic volumes on that road during much of the day would make it difficult for traffic to reach average speeds of 45 mph.
"I think the traffic doesn't allow you to do that, especially not as traffic volumes increase over time," he said.
Today, Grand Avenue sees an average of about 24,000 daily vehicle trips, according to Glenwood Springs City Engineer Terri Partch. A recent city-funded study found that the number could rise to as much as 47,900 trips by 2030.
Glenwood Springs Police Lieutenant Bill Kimminau, who frequently patrols Grand Avenue, says most traffic tends to flow at 25 to 35 miles per hour. Most of his tickets, he said, are written to people going between 38 and 40 miles an hour.
He doesn't expect those speeds to change with a wider bridge.
"Aside from the new bridge, it's still the same number of cars on the same road," he said.
Despite the speculative nature of her fears, it appears that Jacobson has managed to alarm some Grand Avenue business owners in recent days during visits to discuss the alleged threat.
"Who is going to want to walk down the street when cars are whizzing by at 45 miles per hour?" asked Kristin West, owner of The Biker and the Witch clothing store at 918 Grand Ave., who got a visit from Jacobson last week.
Roussin is overseeing the development of the Highway 82 Access Control Plan for CDOT. The plan is a blueprint meant to govern the next 20 years of access onto Grand Avenue from connecting streets.
It covers the entire stretch of Highway 82 through Glenwood Springs, from the I-70 interchange and Sixth Street on the north, along Grand and South Glen Avenue, and continuing south of the city limits to the Westbank/Garfield County Road 154 intersection.
In its current form, the plan calls for changes to allow for more efficient access of Grand Avenue. If approved, however, those changes wouldn't go immediately into effect, and would only kick in along Grand Avenue when property is being redeveloped, or where new development causes current traffic volumes to increase by 20 percent or more.
"A lot of people feel like the bulldozers are coming, and they're really not," said Roussin. He said the Eighth Street intersection is the only place where the changes could take effect in the near term, with the completion of the Grand Avenue Bridge.
CDOT is partnering with the city of Glenwood Springs to complete the plan, and the Glenwood Springs City Council and Garfield Board of County Commissioners will consider adopting the plan this spring.
According to City Engineer Partch, completing the plan would allow the city to start planning medians and other traffic calming elements for Grand Avenue, which could help combat any increase in average traffic speed.
"Of course, if the traffic volumes increase the way they are projected to, we'll all be going pretty slow," she said.
Some concerned stakeholders, including members of the Citizens to Save Grand Avenue group, say the Access Plan is geared toward moving traffic through Glenwood Springs quickly, at the expense of local traffic flow.
"The goal of the plan is to move traffic faster through Glenwood," said Karen Price, a member of the citizen group. "The only thing slowing people down as they come off of 1-70 now is the [existing Grand Avenue] bridge."
Roussin said CDOT is concerned with traffic flow through the city, but that the agency also has a mandate to consider the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists in the Grand Avenue corridor. And he said CDOT is counting on the Glenwood Springs City Council to represent the concerns of city residents into the process.
"We rely on the city to provide that perspective of community goals," he said.