EDITORIAL: Glenwood, region must make most of bridge
August 24, 2014
Let's get past the bypass.
As Glenwood Springs residents and leaders ponder our transportation headaches and future, we must focus on making the most of the Grand Avenue Bridge project, which holds significant opportunity for both the town and the region.
It may not be our transportation and tourism dream come true. Trucks and other traffic still will disrupt the pedestrian friendliness and tourist ambiance of our downtown main street.
But know this and accept this: A Colorado Highway 82 alternative route is not going to happen for Glenwood Springs any time in the foreseeable future. The expense and logistics in our narrow and geologically challenging town are simply too much to overcome in today's fiscally gridlocked America.
The new bridge, on the other hand, seems quite likely to be built.
The Colorado Department of Transportation is moving forward with the bridge, looking for money to close the gap in what's allocated and what's needed and, significantly, beginning to win regional support. Construction is to start next summer.
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CDOT has $60 million earmarked for bridge construction, but the total cost is now estimated at $70 million to pay for a changed alignment, improved pedestrian bridge and aesthetic elements. We will be glad for these features, and we can't add them later.
The $100 million figure you hear includes planning costs, which are covered by the state.
It's a lot of money, but a fraction of what an alternate route would cost — an alternate route that, again, despite shoulds and wishful thinking, is not going to happen.
The other idea that won't work is leaving the bridge alone. It was built in 1953, it's dangerously narrow and its footings in the river have suffered significant erosion. Inaction invites disaster and an inelegant emergency solution.
If Glenwood Springs leaders and residents (and our neighbors upvalley) fail to embrace reality, we will lose an opportunity to make the most of a major infrastructure investment in our region.
Let's underscore that it's a regional investment, actually, a project important to the state economy.
The bridge brings people into Glenwood, where we want them to stop, walk and spend to boost our sales-tax-dependent city budget.
The bridge also is a gateway to the big-name resorts upvalley. Aspen and Aspen Skiing Co. need to care about traffic flow through Glenwood for tourists, yes, but particularly for workers. Numerous upvalley workers live across the Colorado River, and the economy needs their commute, by car or by bus, to be reliable.
People often look for The Big Thing to make a situation better. For big city downtowns, for example, that sometimes is a major sports stadium, such as Coors Field boosting LoDo in Denver. For Glenwood, a $100 million investment by the state, with some regional cooperation, IS our big thing for the foreseeable future.
Locals can watch the bridge happen and continue to wring our hands about a bypass, a tunnel or other fantasies. Or we can look at opportunities created by the bridge project and begin to address which of those we want to seize and how.
For example, the bridge alignment opens a triangle of space north of the Colorado River that can be a wonderful pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly plaza. It's a big potential side benefit of the bridge that locals must figure out how to finance.
Fortunately, the town has shown how to make a series of steps come together. The governor's award just announced for the cooperative effort to improve the area from Grand to Blake between Seventh and 10th streets shows how the Downtown Development Authority and a range of partners can knit together ideas and investment to create a whole bigger than the sum of its parts.
The library, parking garage, Colorado Mountain College/chamber of commerce building, outdoor dining and improved pedestrian environment create a model for what can happen north of the river after the bridge is built.
The project poses more questions for the community to address, such as: Can a permanent Eighth Street connector be built? Should we work to slow traffic on Grand and allow trucks on Midland?
The questions, though, have nothing to do with whether to build a new bridge. They are related to how to seize the reality of the moment. The clock is ticking.