Guest opinion: Deeper connections of bridge project
August 23, 2017
Monday, Aug, 14, 2017, New Castle, Colorado, 7:10 a.m.
It is Day One of the Grand Avenue bridge detour. The old bridge, an artery of travel through Glenwood Springs to many, is closed. In answer to the call for commuters to utilize other methods of transportation, my customary RFTA bus stop in New Castle is teeming with passenger numbers not seen in the over six years of my ridership.
Twenty-five passengers at this stop. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the second New Castle stop. We were beyond capacity. An additional bus would accommodate the remaining. Obviously, this closure was taken seriously. We made the turn out of town and down the off ramp to Interstate 70.
The travel in the left lane was slow, but we made it to Glenwood Springs in less than 30 minutes. We all got off and made our way on foot across the pedestrian bridge to make connection to our final destinations. With my office downtown, I was in the door before 8 a.m.
Riding a RFTA bus has been my dedicated form of transportation since I moved to New Castle in 2011. I have formed valued friendships, participated in meaningful conversations, met interesting fellow travelers, have had the opportunity to write, prepare for meetings and classes, and been given the solace to finish reading a few good books. Every day, the skilled drivers get me and my compatriots to and from work with friendliness and professionalism. As the week continued, all my drivers were new, and my friends, due to shifting schedules, rode other buses.
It turns out change can be enlightening.
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During the first five days, the visual reality of the deep interconnection between Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Basalt and Aspen with western Garfield County came clearly into focus. Teachers, nurses, dog groomers, business owners and bookkeepers filled the seats. Some work in retail. Some clean hotel rooms. Many of my fellow Colorado Mountain College co-workers are now part of the ridership.
Conversations during the commutes have run the gamut of subjects: health care, day care, school, entire families shifting schedules to make the commute a reality. Networking and the exchange of contacts are made by people working in similar professions who would never have met without the necessity of abandoning their usual mode of daily commute.
In the early mornings, little children eat mini-muffins and sip from juice boxes. I admire the patience of their parents who instill serenity and positivity in a sea of change. Some children shout exclamations of delight at the bus stop when the bright green dinosaur decal on the side of the RFTA bus comes into view. The young teach us so much about the acceptance of what cannot be controlled and in finding the joy in the moment.
Aside from making a living, every person in that morning and evening commute through their service makes a difference in the life of another. Once we are no longer traveling singularly, we see our humanity one on one.
This bridge project is not only about Glenwood Springs and its economy. It is about personal prosperity and personal character and the personal desire to make a positive difference interlocking with the health and economic prosperity of an entire region. We are participating in an immense social experiment, destined within 95 days to forever change the life of every person in some way.
For those of us commuting by bus, there is opportunity to enjoy a slower pace of life. I observed one of my fellow commuters stopping on the pedestrian bridge to study the morning light. I could see he appreciated the crispness in the air of the mid-August morning. He turned to examine the Colorado River and the Hotel Colorado. As he started walking, he studied Lookout Mountain and Glenwood Canyon. These are wonders that no one can deeply appreciate while in an automobile.
It is ironic that the deconstruction of a bridge can connect people socially. It is also interesting that constructing a new bridge, designed to more easily connect communities, could disconnect us again from one another on that social level.
Glenwood Springs is western Garfield County and western Garfield County is Glenwood Springs. One cannot exist without the other. The imaginary line of demarcation at the Glenwood Springs Mall that mentally divides the western part of the county from the prosperity of Glenwood Springs and beyond has been erased during the deconstruction phase of the Grand Avenue bridge project.
We have found community.
And that community is all of us.