GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Colorado lawmakers who are on a listening tour before drafting transportation-related legislation for the next session got an earful Thursday on the single dominant local issue.
From area elected officials expressing concerns about traffic mitigation around the state’s planned replacement of the Grand Avenue Bridge, to a group of citizens emphasizing their preference instead for a Highway 82 bypass, members of the joint Transportation Legislation Review Committee got a quick read in the latest chapter of the age-old debate.
“We have a chaotic situation that is not getting any better,” Glenwood Springs resident Ed Rosenberg said before the committee regarding traffic volumes and congestion on Highway 82/Grand Avenue.
The Colorado Department of Transportation’s plan to use $60 million from the state Bridge Enterprise Fund to build a new bridge across the Colorado River to a reconfigured interchange at Interstate 70 is “short-sighted,” Rosenberg said.
“It’s not solving our future transportation issues,” he said.
“Instead, the state is trying to sell us a bridge and an LA-style highway ramp that will flow traffic onto our main street,” Rosenberg said. “What we really want is to get that traffic off of Grand Avenue.”
John Haines, speaking for the Citizens to Save Grand Avenue group, opined that “nobody is in favor of this bridge.”
After Glenwood Springs City Council declined to put an advisory question on the ballot related to the bridge project, Haines said his group is preparing to send out a mailer that will pose the question of whether city residents want a new bridge.
“We will have that answer for you,” he said, urging the state legislators to put pressure on CDOT to halt the bridge project and consider measures that could eventually fund a bypass.
The 13 state House and Senate members who serve on the transportation review committee completed their three-day Western Slope swing in Glenwood Springs Thursday.
Earlier visits took them to Kremmling, Steamboat Springs and Grand Junction.
The committee is taking comments from citizens and local government officials around the state before convening this fall to discuss transportation bills for the 2014 Colorado Legislative session.
Glenwood Springs Mayor Leo McKinney and Councilman Matt Steckler advised the committee members that City Council is “almost unanimous” in supporting the bridge replacement project. But the city also recognizes the need for a bypass option in the future, they said.
“Our biggest discomfort is with the mitigation piece,” McKinney said of the likelihood of traffic back-ups during the bridge construction in two years.
The biggest impact on local residents and tourism, both in Glenwood Springs and up valley to Carbondale, Basalt and Aspen, will be during the anticipated 60-day full closure of the bridge, he said.
Putting 26,000 cars a day on the proposed Midland Avenue detour route will have significant impacts on the city, he said. The city is looking for support from the state to help it complete the Eighth Street connection to Midland, which could help ease traffic congestion during the construction period.
A likely detour of I-70, possibly onto Sixth Street, while a bridge section is erected over the interstate, is also a concern, McKinney said.
“That is also not going to be painless,” he said.
McKinney noted that City Council did pass a resolution to work with CDOT on the bridge project. He said he hopes to see that same level of cooperation when it comes to working with the city on construction impacts.
Pitkin County’s public works director, Brian Pettit, said officials in the neighboring county also support the bridge replacement.
“The process has been as open and transparent as any I have seen,” Pettit said. “It is vital to the Aspen community that we have a new bridge.”
He referred to CDOT’s cooperation with Pitkin County in coming up with a workable detour during construction of the four-lane Highway 82 through Snowmass Canyon several years ago.
“We had a partnership, and that worked well,” he said of the traffic detour onto Lower River Road during that project. “There will be some pain [with the Grand Avenue Bridge replacement], but in the end we will have a beneficial project.”
State Rep. Max Taylor, D-Golden, who chairs the committee, also asked local officials to talk about mass transit in the region, how it’s working and what the state might do to help local communities enhance transit.
“We do have a bus tax to run our bus system,” McKinney said of the Ride Glenwood system, which is operated in partnership between the city and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.
“It is expensive, and we have had to cut some routes when revenues were down,” he said. “We would like to expand, but it is hard to justify without revenues.”