GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Grand Avenue Bridge project designers will proceed with a plan that includes a tower structure and two elevators to provide handicapped access between a new pedestrian bridge and Seventh Street, following a 5-2 City Council vote Thursday night.
Council had been asked by project officials from the Colorado Department of Transportation to give its preference between an elongated ramp, an elevator or a combination of both in order to satisfy Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements for the new pedestrian bridge.
A new pedestrian bridge is part of the larger, $60 million Grand Avenue Bridge replacement project, which is still undergoing a formal environmental assessment by CDOT and the Federal Highway Administration.
While the special state fund will pay for either a single elevator or a ramp, it will not pay for a second elevator or both a ramp and an elevator, project officials have said.
That extra cost, in addition to annual maintenance, cleaning, security and other related elevator costs that could range anywhere from $18,000 to more than $70,000, would be the city’s responsibility.
The project fund will, however, pay for a stairway to accommodate able-bodied pedestrians. The stairway will also come with a special “bike channel” so bicyclists can more easily walk their bikes up and down the stairs.
Several members of the public, including downtown business owners and representatives from the Downtown Development Authority, spoke in favor of the double elevator option.
“Every single business owner on Seventh Street supports the elevator,” said Jodie Collins, a member of the DDA board. “These people have put their blood, sweat and tears into that area, and you need to listen to them.”
Among the concerns with a ramp is its large size, at more than 300 feet long, of which business owners fear will block views across the Colorado River from Seventh Street and take up usable public plaza space and parking along Seventh.
The DDA has been working on streetscape plans for Seventh that call for outdoor dining areas and plaza spaces for public gatherings and events. An elevator is more fitting with those plans, DDA officials said.
Also, with grades of more than 8 percent covering the 23-foot vertical distance between the pedestrian bridge and the street level, another concern is that a ramp would be hard to navigate for people in wheelchairs or with other disabilities.
“A ramp that size is something that just does not work for ADA access,” said downtown property owner Jim Mason. “A ramp will also have maintenance costs of its own.”
Council, in choosing the double elevator option without a ramp, is also hoping a backup power generator will satisfy ADA requirements for some type of backup plan in the event of a power outage.
Otherwise, the city may need to arrange for a vehicle shuttle across the Colorado River for disabled users in the event of an interruption in elevator service, at an additional cost to the city.
In any case, both state and federal officials will have to agree to the city’s ADA plan before the pedestrian bridge is built, CDOT engineering consultant Craig Gaskill said at the Thursday meeting.
“The [highway administration] wants to be comfortable with the plan,” Gaskill said. If not, and an ADA backup agreement cannot be reached, the agency would likely recommend a ramp or ramp-elevator combination against the city’s wishes, he said.
Mayor Leo McKinney and Councilman Matt Steckler rejected the dual-elevator option, instead preferring a single elevator and ramp combination.
“I’m not willing to encumber the city of Glenwood Springs with that kind of ongoing expense,” Steckler said in relation to the anticipated costs associated with maintaining an elevator and providing a backup ADA plan.
McKinney agreed that the potential long-term expense for the city is too great.
He also agreed with one member of the public, Jeremy Heiman, who said a ramp is needed to better serve bicyclists, in keeping with the city’s multi-modal transportation goals.
“To say bicyclists can just go three blocks down [to the Two Rivers Park bridge] is kind of dismissive,” Heiman said, adding bicyclists also contribute to the local economy.
Supporters of the elevator-only option said the benefits to businesses in the lower downtown area should more than help pay for any extra costs to the city over time.
Councilman Mike Gamba said he initially favored the ramp option, but now believes the elevator will work best to satisfy the access needs.
“We have a talented group of people working with the DDA who have put a lot of thought into how to develop that area,” Gamba said in siding with council members Dave Sturges, Todd Leahy, Ted Edmonds and Stephen Bershenyi on the issue.
In addition to a greater potential to generate more sales tax in the area, Gamba suggested the city could consider fees for use of sidewalk space for outdoor dining, or perhaps licensing fees for vendors and street performers, to help cover the costs.
“There are going to be some costs here, I agree,” Gamba said. “But my hope is the benefit to this area will provide enough economic development to pay for that cost.”
DDA board chairman Charlie Willman said the special taxing district could also be a source of funds to help pay for any additional costs associated with operating the elevators.
“Every single business owner on Seventh Street supports the elevator.”
Member of the DDA board