GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Legal strings attached to an elevator-only option for providing handicapped and bicycle access between Seventh Street and a new pedestrian bridge over the Colorado River could influence City Council’s recommendation about the matter.
Council members, at a Thursday work session with the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Grand Avenue Bridge project team, expressed concerns about one requirement in particular should an elevator be chosen over a ramp.
If an elevator is built without a secondary ramp alternative, the city would need to come up with a plan for providing handicapped access in the event of an interruption in elevator service, under provisions of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
That would likely mean setting up some type of on-call vehicle shuttle from one side of the river to the other to have in place during a closure, and at the city’s expense.
“That could be a huge cost component to considering an elevator,” said Glenwood Councilman Matt Steckler.
For that reason, Steckler and Mayor Leo McKinney, who also was willing to state his preference before a formal decision is made by the full council next month, said they are leaning toward an option that would involve both an elevator and a newly reconfigured ramp proposal.
“There’s no way to get around the utility in having a ramp,” either by itself or in combination with an elevator, Steckler said.
“I think we need both a ramp and an elevator, even if we just do the shaft now and add the elevator later,” he said. “We just need to find a way to pay for it.”
Bridge project officials have said the Colorado Bridge Enterprise Fund will pay for a new pedestrian bridge as part of the larger $60 million Grand Avenue/Highway 82 Bridge replacement project.
That’s partly because the pedestrian bridge, which is to be built first, will be used to carry utilities across the river that are now attached to the highway bridge.
As part of the deal, though, CDOT officials have said the enterprise fund will cover the cost of either a ramp access down to Seventh Street, or an elevator, but not both.
CDOT has proposed a new ramp design that would extend east of the pedestrian bridge only about as far as the existing stairway, then turn back to the west and pass under the new highway bridge, landing on Seventh between Grand and Colorado Avenue.
The goal of the new design is to limit the impact of a large ramp structure extending east of the bridge and blocking the view across the river from several restaurants and other businesses, and taking up potential public plaza space in that stretch.
Project officials said Thursday that the reconfigured ramp could be built by itself, or in combination with an elevator tower. Either option would also include a stairway access from the bridge down to Seventh Street.
“I agree, this is a much improved ramp design from the previous one,” said Councilman Todd Leahy who has been adamantly opposed to the ramp option based on the earlier designs.
However, Leahy and other members of the council said they want to hear from the public and other groups before deciding on the ramp, elevator or combo options. That chance will come at the first City Council meeting of the new year, on Jan. 2, 2014, when council is also expected to give its recommendation to the bridge planners.
The Downtown Development Authority has also endorsed the elevator option, and had one of its downtown design consultants, Jim Charlier of Boulder, compare the ramp and elevator options.
“From an accessibility perspective, elevators are preferable to ramps,” Charlier wrote in a “white paper” submitted to city officials last week.
That’s primarily because a ramp would require a long, steep grade of more than 8 percent in order to navigate the 23-foot vertical distance between the bridge and Seventh Street, he said.
“Elevators provide much better access for people with physical disabilities than ramps,” Charlier advised.
From a cost perspective, a combination ramp and elevator, one of which the city would have to pay to install, would cost about twice as much as a single elevator option, he also said.
The city has also considered providing two elevators, only one of which it would have to pay for.
City Councilman Ted Edmonds said he remains undecided on the issue, and could be convinced either way.
“A ramp might keep the government off our case” in terms of ADA compliance, Edmonds said.
“But it doesn’t truly serve the purpose of allowing handicapped access,” he said.
Of growing concern for CDOT is the time it has taken to get a recommendation from the city on the elevator/ramp options to be included in the overall bridge design, which bridge planners initially sought back in early October.
“We are now at a point where a delay in the recommendation would likely cause the project to miss an entire construction season by not being able to start construction before winter of 2014,” project officials Joe Elsen and Craig Gaskill said in a Dec. 12 memo to City Council.
Elsen clarified at the Thursday meeting that a decision on the pedestrian bridge design by Jan. 2 would be acceptable. The bridge planning team is in the final stages of preparing a draft Environmental Assessment, which is expected to be available for public comment next spring.
The tentative project schedule calls for construction to begin late next year on the pedestrian bridge, followed by replacement of the highway bridge in 2015 and 2016.
“A ramp might keep the government off our case, but it doesn’t truly serve the purpose of allowing handicapped access.”
Glenwood city councilman