GLENWOOD SPRINGS — The Grand Avenue bridge project has earned the support of elected officials from five area counties as the top priority in the intermountain planning region for additional state funding.
If approved through the formal Statewide Transportation Improvements Program process, the $3.3 million in requested funds would help make up what’s now projected to be a $9.9 million shortfall to carry the bridge replacement and related improvements through to completion, said Joe Elsen, program manager for CDOT and a member of the Grand Avenue bridge planning team.
Last week, the Inter-Mountain Transportation Planning Region (IMTPR) group, made up of elected officials from towns and county governments in Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin, Summit and Lake counties, voted to put the project at the top of its list for the next round of state funding.
The money would be in addition to the approximately $60 million in construction-specific funds that are already committed as part of the special Colorado Bridge Enterprise fund.
“That’s a third of our projected shortfall, which is a huge step,” Elsen said of the $9.9 million funding deficit that has now been calculated as the project remains at 30 percent of its final design cost.
That figure could change, either up or down, as the project nears 60 percent of design. That stage of the bridge planning and design, all part of the larger environmental assessment that’s due out later this year, is anticipated in early September, he said.
In any case, because of the way the project has evolved to include a variety of other Highway 82/Interstate 70 interchange improvements including a pedestrian underpass, plus a new pedestrian bridge, it’s now “more than a simple bridge replacement,” Elsen said.
Making the case that the planned new bridge serves as the “gateway” to the entire Roaring Fork Valley from the I-70 corridor was key in earning the regional prioritization at the IMTPR’s monthly meeting last Friday in Eagle, he said.
“This is something that really does affect everybody up and down the Roaring Fork Valley,” Elsen said.
Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman, who represents the county on the IMTPR group, agreed.
“We do understand the significance of this project,” Newman said. “From the work force that we rely on, to the visitors who rely on Highway 82, it’s critical that Pitkin County support the Grand Avenue bridge project and move it forward.
“I think it also shows the state transportation commissioners how important this corridor is for this entire region,” Newman said, adding he hopes the prioritization will serve to help identify and secure other funds to close the funding gap.
The project also wholeheartedly earned the support of the Glenwood Springs and Garfield County representatives on the IMTPR committee, Glenwood City Councilman Mike Gamba and county Commissioner Tom Jankovsky.
“I do think it was a positive decision by the IMTPR to show that not only the city of Glenwood Springs but the entire intermountain planning region supports this project,” Gamba said. “It sends a message to the Bridge Enterprise board that this project has the backing of the entire region.”
Concerns had been expressed by local elected officials earlier this summer that, as the bridge planning process drags on into its fourth year, the Bridge Enterprise money could be jeopardized.
At this point, a draft EA is expected out by November, followed by another round of formal public review, a public hearing and comment period.
A final decision on the planned bridge alignment and design is anticipated by February 2015, and construction on the initial phases of the project, including the new pedestrian bridge, could begin by May of next year.
Instead of the current straight shot from downtown Glenwood across the railroad tracks, the Colorado River and I-70 to Pine Street on the north, the proposed new bridge alignment would curve from Grand Avenue on the south to a newly reconfigured street intersection and highway interchange at Laurel Street.
Gamba said city officials were aware of a possible funding gap in the bridge construction budget, but weren’t aware of the new nearly $10 million estimate until about mid-July.
“We still have to be extremely cautious with that, because it is based on 30 percent design,” he said, echoing Elsen’s cautionary note. “If it gets smaller, we’ll be happy, and if it gets larger we’ll still have some reason to be concerned.”
Although the existing 61-year-old bridge remains safe, it has been rated as deficient by state bridge inspectors due to both functional and structural concerns related to its age and obsolete design, Elsen stressed.
The bridge replacement also affords the opportunity to make other improvements, including the pedestrian features and highway interchange safety improvements that otherwise would need to be done separately and at more cost in the future, he said.