Hal Sundin
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

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February 7, 2013
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To bridge or not to bridge - that is the question

With the recent revelation that the Grand Avenue bridge replacement project will require two months of complete closure of the bridge, it has become obvious that it is time to call a time out, to step back and commence a complete analysis of all of our transportation issues, and the impacts of the project as currently conceived on our fair city, its residents, its businesses, and its economy - in other words, an in-depth environmental impact study.

With the Grand Avenue bridge closed, only one route, Midland Avenue, will be available for the four lanes of traffic (including trucks) now using that bridge. How can Midland possibly take on all that additional traffic when it is already running at full capacity during morning and evening rush hours? How will school traffic and buses, and Ride Glenwood and RFTA buses, be able to function? How can emergency vehicles respond in a timely manner?

Semi-trailer trucks will block traffic in their struggle to get from I-70 to south Highway 82. They will either have to negotiate three right-angle turns (at Seventh Street and Colorado Avenue, at Colorado Avenue and Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, 10th or 11th streets, and onto or off Grand Avenue at one of those streets), or else challenge Four Mile Road traffic at the 27th Street and the tight Midland Avenue traffic circle. Take a moment to visualize that in your mind's eye.

How will residents in the area get into and out of their driveways and side streets into the sea of Midland Avenue traffic, and make any kind of progress in it? What about the noise, dust and exhaust fumes from all this traffic, and the damage it will do to the pavement?

But wait, there's still more to be considered. What will this traffic dislocation do to the local economy? Can our downtown businesses survive, and what will happen to the tourist business on which Glenwood Springs is so dependent?

The foregoing are only the immediate adverse impacts of the proposed bridge project on our community. Now let's look at its long-range implications. As the traffic volume on Highway 82 (Grand Avenue) continues to increase, the time will come when it exceeds acceptable limits, and, according to CDOT, additional lanes through town will be needed. But CDOT has a strategy to postpone its responsibility to provide those lanes. It is called an "Access Control Plan," which is a series of measures to restrict the use of Grand Avenue by residents to make room for the highway traffic. These measures include closing intersections to crossing traffic (including pedestrians), severely limiting left turns, reducing parking and reducing the number of accesses to Grand Avenue (including driveways). All of these will take their toll on residents and local businesses.

Instead of the limited environmental assessment being planned by CDOT, what should be done is a full-blown environmental impact study addressing all of the social and economic impacts of the bridge replacement, and whether it will be compatible with construction required to meet future traffic needs.

In particular it should address the question of whether the adverse effects on Glenwood Springs of proceeding with the project as currently proposed can be justified when they could be avoided by deferring it until after the additional lanes, which most everyone acknowledges are going to be needed, have been constructed. This would allow the Grand Avenue bridge to be replaced at a much lower cost than the present plan, and would also avoid the traffic impasse during construction and eliminate the need for an Access Control Plan, and their ruinous consequences.

It is easy to understand CDOT's zeal to spend the $59 million of our tax money it has within its grasp to replace the Grand Avenue bridge, and its relative indifference to the damage that will inflict on Glenwood Springs, both during construction and for decades to come. It will get this bridge off its substandard bridge list. (The current four lanes are only 91⁄2 feet wide, whereas current major highway standards require a width of 12 feet.) But I raise the question whether Grand Avenue, as this city's downtown main street, should any longer be considered to be a "highway."

What is hard to understand is why our City Council seems to have the same indifference, and is putting CDOT's interests ahead of the interests of the residents and local businesses it should be protecting.

There is never a right time to make a wrong decision.

"As I See It" appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at asicit1@hotmail.com.


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The Post Independent Updated Feb 7, 2013 01:31AM Published Feb 7, 2013 01:29AM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.