A throng of residents descended upon the Glenwood Springs Community Center on Tuesday, seeking information on a plan that will govern access to Grand Avenue through much of Glenwood Springs.
In a room filled with poster boards depicting details of the Highway 82 Access Control Plan and the proposed new Grand Avenue Bridge, officials from the city of Glenwood Springs and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) showed visitors how the access plan would alter various stretches of Grand Avenue.
And, as has been true throughout the public review process, the most widespread concerns about the plan from attendees centered on how it will impact the city's downtown core.
"They have restricted access to the main commercial district," said Erin Zalinski, Glenwood Springs resident and co-owner of Treadz on Grand Avenue, referring to a controversial proposal to eliminate traffic signals where Grand intersects Eighth and 10th Streets and convert those to right-in, right-out junctions.
"It will move traffic, but they've forgotten about the fact that we live here, and need to utilize this resource," she said.
Zalinski also said she was concerned that some aspects of the plan could make it challenging for visitors new to town to navigate the downtown area.
Members of the group Citizens to Save Grand Avenue were on hand at the open house as well. The group opposes the access plan and bridge project alike, and instead advocates constructing a new route for Highway 82 that skirts downtown Glenwood Springs.
As people streamed into the Community Center over their lunch hour on Tuesday, group members Karen Price and C. Jacobson stood out front, waving signs with slogans like "Community First" and "Get Highway 82 Off Grand Ave."
"We would like to defeat the thing, because it is so destructive to the community," group member Hal Sundin said of the access plan. Sundin and his allies argue that routing Highway 82 traffic around downtown Glenwood Springs would eliminate the need for an access plan in the first place, and provide an uninterrupted way for commuters to get through town during the construction of a new Grand Avenue Bridge. (The current plan is to route traffic onto Midland Avenue for about two months during the bridge construction process.)
"Why should the city have to go through [the access plan process] when the ultimate need is for another route through town?" asked Sundin.
Yet a so-called "bypass" would cost hundreds of millions of dollars for which no source has been identified. And as Glenwood Springs Mayor Matt Steckler notes, it would likely create vastly more controversy than the access plan has to date.
"Show me the consensus in the community about where to put the bypass, and show me the several hundred million dollars needed to build it," he said. "I don't see how stopping and waiting for consensus on that is a valid approach. We've done that for 60 years."
The Glenwood Springs City Council is set to consider the access control plan at its meeting on March 21, though Sundin hopes his group's opposition will prompt the council to delay its review.
Unless new information comes to light before March 21, Steckler said, he expects the review to go forward. But he notes that the council is unlikely to grant the plan easy approval. "I have many unanswered questions," he said. "I am concerned about the experience of pedestrians downtown."
If adopted, the access plan would require many changes to existing access routes along nearly five miles of Grand Avenue, from the Interstate 70 exchange north of town to near the Orrison Distributing Plant to the south. The plan is broken into three segments: the stretch between Sixth and 13th streets, the stretch between 14th and 21st streets, and the segment from 22nd Street to near the Orrison plant.
However, the changes would be triggered only by redevelopment of properties along the route that increase traffic volumes by at least 20 percent from current levels, or by the construction of a public project in the corridor.
The area between Seventh and Eighth streets near the site of the proposed new Grand Avenue Bridge would likely be the first to see changes if the access plan is approved, and if construction of a new bridge - a public project - goes forward as planned in 2015.
That would clear the way for the removal of a traffic signal at Eighth street, and the conversion of that intersection into a right-in, right-out junction. Pedestrians would no longer be allowed to cross Grand Avenue at Eighth Street, but current plans call for a pedestrian underpass beneath the new Grand Avenue Bridge, between Seventh and Eighth.
In the area between 14th and 21st streets, major changes called for under the plan include the conversion of the intersection at Grand and 15th Street, near Rite Aid, to pedestrian only, and the consolidation of several access points on the south side of Grand Avenue across from Sayre Park (if the area is redeveloped commercially).
Over time, the offset intersection of Park Drive and Highland Park Drive could be realigned, although that would require the acquisition of residential property by the city.
Between 22nd Street and the Orrison plant, the plan calls for the realignment of the intersection of South Grand Avenue and 23rd Street, as well as the elimination of the traffic signal at the County Road 154 (Buffalo Valley) intersection. However, that would only happen with the completion of the proposed south bridge project, which would connect Midland Avenue to Highway 82 south of the city limits.