GLENWOOD SPRINGS — If a new Eighth Street link to Midland Avenue is to be built, city officials would prefer to remove the idea of a new bridge across the Roaring Fork River from the planning table.
As contemplated in one of the six design options contained in a project feasibility study that was presented to Glenwood Springs City Council and city Transportation Commission members Wednesday, a new elevated bridge would be one way to deal with the significant grade difference between the bluff where the railroad “wye” is and the existing bridge.
An elevated bridge without a direct link to Seventh Street could also be a way to address access concerns for property owners on the east side of the river, engineering consultants suggested in the study.
But construction of a new bridge could take up to six months or possibly even two construction seasons to complete, resulting in a lengthy bridge closure, advised transportation commissioner Ralph Trapani during a work session to discuss the feasibility study.
That’s an extra inconvenience to motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians that use that route into and out of downtown Glenwood Springs that would be counter to the Eighth Street project’s goals, he said.
The additional time involved to build a new bridge also is less likely to meet the Colorado Department of Transportation’s schedule to possibly use the new street connection for a detour route during the upcoming Grand Avenue Bridge project, others at the table said.
City Council moved the Eighth Street project to the top of its priority list mainly because council members preferred it as a detour option over the other alternative, which would be to use Midland Avenue all the way to 27th Street.
CDOT anticipates needing a Highway 82 detour for about two months in the fall of 2016, based on a preliminary construction schedule, while the new Grand Avenue Bridge is being completed.
Council selected three of the six alignment and design alternatives for further engineering, as it works to decide on the best way to traverse the railroad “wye” area and connect the existing dead-end section of Eighth Street near City Hall and Vogelaar Park with the bridge, and ultimately Midland Avenue.
Referred to as Alternatives 1, 2 and 5 in the feasibility study, the three options still on the table for consideration would each involve a street underpass beneath the two legs of railroad tracks, using either a single span or multiple bridge spans to carry the tracks over the street extension.
Two of the options would use a straight street alignment from the point where Eighth Street now ends to the bridge. A third option would use an offset street alignment curving to the south then back to the bridge. That option would also shift the “wye” area to the north.
Also, two of the options would involve closing the western-most portion of Seventh Street, and creating a new link between Eighth and Seventh by City Hall, called “Defiance Avenue,” something that has already been envisioned in the city’s conceptual confluence area master plan.
At a very preliminary estimate of between $7.7 million and $12.4 million to build what ends up being about 1,000 feet of new street, though, the question of cost was a big one at the work session.
“Before we talk about design, can we talk about whether we can even afford this?,” City Councilman Matt Steckler asked. “The answer gets really easy if we’re talking six to eight million. We don’t have it.”
CDOT does have approximately $1 million to $1.5 million set aside as part of the larger $60 million Grand Avenue Bridge project budget to deal with detour needs during construction, said CDOT project engineer Joe Elsen, who attended the Wednesday meeting.
That also assumes the alignment and design for the Eighth Street project that is chosen by the city is acceptable for CDOT’s needs, he said.
CDOT officials have indicated that Alternative 1 is preferred, with its straight-shot street alignment and fewer conflicts with the wye section, which is owned by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.
RFTA also had representatives at the work session, and has said that any plan that limits impacts on the existing railroad tracks would be preferred.
City Manager Jeff Hecksel said the city has the ability to bond for up to $3 million to fund the project, as authorized by voters in a 1998 election.
Without a dedicated tax, though, “we don’t have the cash flow to pay off the debt,” he said.
Still, there’s no harm in continuing to study the options, he added.
“I really think all of that is very preliminary at this point,” Hecksel said of the cost estimates in the feasibility study. “There are still a lot of variables and some specific design issues that we need to work through.”
Councilman Mike Gamba offered some variations on the offset street alignment option that he said might work to bring the costs down.
“I don’t think the alternatives we’re looking at right now are necessarily the most cost-effective,” Gamba said. “I think there are some more cost-effective opportunities that would get us closer to five or six million.”
Hecksel said the alignment options are also important as the confluence planning group continues its work to refine a redevelopment concept plan for what’s envisioned as a western extension of the downtown area.
The city might also buy some time to consider its options for Eighth Street as it relates to the Grand Avenue Bridge project.
Elsen said it’s now possible the official decision document for the required NEPA review may not be ready until February of 2015, rather than later this year as originally anticipated. That could push the bridge construction schedule back a full year, he said.