County may help with bridge funding gap
August 23, 2014
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County commissioners are inclined to help make up a shortfall to build the new Grand Avenue bridge, especially if the county's money could be dedicated to a new pedestrian span across the Colorado River that is part of the project.
"If we put any money into this, I would like to dedicate it to (the pedestrian bridge)," Commission Chairman John Martin said in response to a $3 million request Monday from Colorado Department of Transportation officials.
CDOT's bridge planners are busy lining up money beyond of the Colorado Bridge Enterprise fund's $98.6 million total project budget, in an effort to make up what's now believed to be about a $9.9 million funding gap.
"I'd rather not get into the fray of the actual (Highway 82) bridge," Martin said, pointing to the controversy surrounding the bridge project and the ongoing federal environmental analysis that must be completed before construction can begin.
"I have friends and enemies on both sides of that issue," Martin quipped.
But the new downtown Glenwood pedestrian bridge that is being planned as part of the project is something Martin and fellow Commissioners Tom Jankovsky and Mike Samson said they could get behind.
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Before deciding, though, the commissioners want to sit in on a Sept. 9 work session between Glenwood Springs City Council and CDOT officials.
By then, the project team should have a better handle on the anticipated shortfall as the bridge design phase and construction cost estimates reaches 60 percent completion, CDOT Region 3 Program Engineer Joe Elsen said Monday.
As it stands, based on the current 30 percent estimate, the total project cost is expected to be in the range of $110 million, including planning, design and construction costs, he and David Eller, CDOT's regional director, said at the Monday meeting.
"We are hoping we can keep this project together, because it's not easy to cut anything out at this point," Eller said, adding that the pedestrian bridge is a key component of the project and one that has earned support from the community.
"I would hate to see us have to go back and start revisiting things," he said.
The pedestrian bridge alone, which will need to be built first so utility lines can be relocated from the existing highway bridge, is expected to cost between $8 million and $10 million, Elsen said.
In July, project officials were able to convince elected officials from five area counties who make up the Inter-mountain Transportation Planning Region (IMTPR) committee to give priority to the Grand Avenue bridge project for $3.3 million in additional state transportation funding.
Elsen said a funding request will be made of neighboring Pitkin County, and project officials expect to ask Glenwood City Council at the Sept. 9 work session how much the city might be willing to contribute.
Jankovsky said the city's commitment is key to his decision whether the county should involve itself financially in the project.
Local participation will also be key when bridge project officials go before the Colorado Bridge Enterprise Board later next month to give a status report and explain the latest cost estimates, Eller said.
"We would like to be able to tell them there is community support for this," he said.
John Haines and other members of the Citizens to Save Grand Avenue group that opposes the bridge project, speaking at the Monday commissioners meeting, still seriously question the level of public support for the project.
Haines pointed to an informal mail survey conducted by his group last year that indicated most Glenwood Springs residents, at least the roughly 600 who responded, wanted the bridge project stopped in favor of a long-range planning effort to determine the best route for a Highway 82 bypass around town.
"Right now, you have misguided City Council support for this, and they are not in touch with reality," Haines said, lobbying for the county not to contribute to the project shortfall.
Jankovsky disagreed, saying any talk about a bypass will generate just as much if not more opposition, especially if it involves Midland Avenue or the former rail corridor.
"The new bridge route does address some problems, and we need to support the city of Glenwood Springs and the City Council on this," he said.
City Councilman Matt Steckler also responded to the Save Grand coalition's concerns.
"We're out in the community all the time, and I do believe the vast majority of folks support replacing the bridge," Steckler said. "There is a strong, vocal minority that doesn't agree with that, but I think a majority of the community is in support of this."
Steckler was joined by Downtown Development Authority Director Leslie Bethel, who said the new bridge, if done right, will benefit rather than hurt the downtown area.