GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Grand Avenue Bridge project officials are prepared to build a straight connection on West Eighth Street to serve as a temporary Highway 82 detour route during the bridge construction, regardless of the city’s readiness at that point to proceed with a new permanent street.
“We are realizing that it is going to be a little more complicated to mesh those two projects,” Joe Elsen, Colorado Department of Transportation program engineer and spokesman for the bridge project team, said of efforts to coordinate CDOT’s detour plans with the city of Glenwood Springs’ ongoing planning to design, engineer and pay for the street connection project.
“We’re planning on needing that detour in the fall of 2016, which is not that far off when you look at what all needs to be done to prepare for that,” Elsen said.
At stake for the city is that residents could go through all the headaches of a major bridge closure and then be left without a long-desired permanent improvement on Eighth Street once the new Grand Avenue Bridge is completed.
Elsen said CDOT is prepared to temporarily remove the railroad side tracks that run through the area, if the Union Pacific Railroad agrees, and build a detour along a straight alignment from the point where Eighth Street now ends, connecting it to Seventh Street at the Roaring Fork River bridge.
That would create a more direct link between Midland Avenue and downtown, which has long been a goal for the city.
If the city eventually decides to follow that same straight alignment, the detour route could be upgraded to city street standards along with a new railroad overpass.
If not, CDOT would have to agree to fill in the temporary detour once it’s no longer needed and replace the tracks, Elsen said.
Last year, CDOT agreed to scrap its original plan to run a Highway 82 detour along Midland Avenue to 27th Street during a two-month period when the final segment of the new bridge is being put into place. That stage of the two-year, $60 million bridge replacement project is now planned for fall 2016.
Instead, CDOT went along with a suggestion by Glenwood Springs City Council to work with the city to plan and build its long-envisioned Eighth Street connection in the interim, and use that as a detour route when the time comes.
The city is in the process of studying various alignment alternatives and options to cross under the railroad tracks, either using the straight alignment or one curving a short distance to the north or south. Another obstacle is a preliminary estimate of between $7 million and $12 million to complete the project.
At a recent work session between City Council and members of the city’s transportation commission, it was clear that there are differing opinions regarding the timing of the project to meet CDOT’s schedule, and which alignment would work best.
“It would be a very disappointing day if CDOT rips up its detour, and what people come to perceive as a convenience,” Councilman Matt Steckler said at the June 5 session. “We would have a lot of explaining to do.”
Other council members and transportation commissioners said they’re inclined to let CDOT do what it needs to do to meet its construction schedule and not let that dictate the city’s eventual street connection design.
“Ultimately, we need to get the best possible road through there that we can,” said Councilman Mike Gamba, who has favored keeping the curved alignments in the mix, even if it means missing CDOT’s schedule.
The benefit of a curved alignment, he said, would be to reduce the steep grade that would come with the straight street alignment.
“If we end up with a 6-1/2 or 7 percent grade on Eighth Street, in my mind that’s not the best road,” Gamba said.
CDOT is not willing to consider using one of the curved alignments because it would require further environmental analysis, which in turn would throw the bridge project further off schedule, according to Jim Clarke, who is steering the required federal environmental assessment for the project.
Meanwhile, several council and transportation commission members have been working with a new citizens group, called Partners 4 Glenwood, which seeks to better engage the community on key issues, such as the bridge and related Eighth Street connection projects.
“We want to make sure people are informed about what’s going on in the community and get citizens a little more involved,” said Kathy Trauger, who sits on both the city transportation and planning and zoning commissions, and writes the “OurTownGlenwoodSprings” blog.
The group formed after she and several other civic and business leaders participated in the Sonoran Institute’s Community Development Academy.
“Several of us who have a passion for making Glenwood Springs the best possible place to live, work and play opted to keep going, and Partners 4 Glenwood was born,” according to a draft statement of purpose that the group has been crafting in preparation for an information campaign.
Its first project is to get involved with the Grand Avenue Bridge project, including the many related issues such as the Eighth Street connection and the various impacts on traffic and getting around town during the bridge construction, Trauger said.
“That is a very important piece of connectivity for the city, however that happens,” she said, adding the group has not taken a position on the best alignment or how the project might be funded.
Personally, she said it seems to be “wise move” for both CDOT and the city to separate the detour and street connection projects.
“So much of what CDOT is doing is tied to federal funding, and that’s a lot of hoops for the city to have to jump through,” Trauger said.
City officials at the June 5 work session also said they would prefer to accomplish the street connection project using local money, rather than federal money, because of the strings attached to federal funds.
CDOT has about $1.5 million in its bridge project budget for detour purposes, Elsen said. But only a portion of that would be for the Eighth Street connection. Improvements would also be needed at Interstate 70 Exit 114 and along north Midland Avenue to accommodate Highway 82 detour traffic, he said.
“If we end up with a 6-1\/2 or 7 percent grade on Eighth Street, in my mind that’s not the best road.”
City Councilman Mike Gamba