The bridge is dead — long live the bridge
August 5, 2014
I don't want to start any rumors or worsen those already being tossed about, so let me say straight away that, as of this writing, the Grand Avenue Bridge is still being funded, at least in most part, by the Colorado Bridge Enterprise Fund (CBE). The phrase above – the title of this column — is most often associated with kings, queens and other monarchs. It is meant to show continuity in spite of change.
You may have heard rumors that money is being pulled for the Grand Avenue Bridge project. According to the CBE website, the estimated project cost is $98.6 million. The most recent guesstimate of the gap between the CBE funding and the total cost is around $10 million. CDOT's project team is responsible for identifying funding from other sources to make up the shortfall.
How do you make up $10 million?
Last Friday, July 25, Glenwood Springs resident and Grand Avenue Bridge project lead Joe Elsen made a bit of headway by making a pitch for a portion of Regional Priority Programing (RPP) money at a meeting of the Intermountain Transportation Planning Region (IMTPR) in Eagle. It is important to know that the IMTPR includes Garfield, Pitkin, Eagle, Summit and Lake counties. At a previous meeting the IMTPR voted to make three transportation corridors its priority. In order of importance, those corridors are:
1. I-70 from Glenwood to the Eisenhower/Johnson tunnels
2. State Highway 82 from Glenwood to Aspen
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3. State Highway 9 in Summit County
The fact that Glenwood is at the central point of the top two priorities is significant.
Total RPP money is approximately $17 million spread over 10 years. Because of the cost of most transportation projects, $17 million is a drop in the bucket. Elsen's last-minute appeal for RPP priority for the Grand Avenue Bridge Project was not the only petition from Glenwood Springs. Terri Partch, Glenwood city engineer, also sought money for two other critical transportation connections, the 27th Street Bridge and South Bridge. In the end, the Grand Avenue Bridge project received the majority of the IMTPR support and landed at the top of the RPP list, receiving a recommendation for $3.3 million. While this is not final, as projects must be reviewed for qualification, if approved, the money will help.
Perhaps most important is that the project received regional support. For months, if not years, city officials, residents and business owners in Glenwood have maintained that the Grand Avenue Bridge is a regional necessity. Without it, resorts and other employers "up valley" would have difficulty getting workers from as far away as Eagle, Rifle, Parachute and even Grand Junction. It is a matter of significant regional economic importance.
No doubt the City of Glenwood Springs and Garfield County will be asked to contribute to reducing the shortfall. That is as it should be for a regional transportation challenge. Elsen has also indicated that the project may apply for other funding sources, including grants to help ease the burden on local entities.
Three questions or comments continually arise:
1. Why are the costs being currently estimated higher than the original $60 million?
The short answer is that the original estimate was based on replacing the current bridge in the current configuration. After taking potential solutions to the public, another alignment was chosen. Additional costs, including design, construction and right-of-way have pushed the cost higher.
2. It is a state highway — let the state pay for it.
This is a valid argument, but the bridge and, yes, the new pedestrian bridge, have enhancements that go beyond functionality. We could accept a bare-bones bridge and pedestrian bridge with an interchange like any I-70 off ramp. But is that what Glenwood and the Roaring Fork Valley really want as their entrance?
3. Why can't we just build a bypass/alternate route with these funds?
The frustration with Grand Avenue congestion and noise is real and understandable. However, according to Colorado Department of Transportation website, "The purpose of the CBE is to finance, repair, reconstruct and replace bridges designated as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete and rated "poor." The Grand Avenue Bridge is functionally obsolete and has been given a poor rating. Additionally, the bridge is "scour critical." CDOT has reports of scour events that have eroded the soil below the spread footing in the Colorado River that is only 7 feet under the river bottom. Each time the bridge is rated, the rating drops.
This is a complex issue and conversation will be ongoing. You are invited to weigh in through comments and letters. But let it be known – the bridge project is alive.
Kathy Trauger is a Glenwood Springs resident and writer who blogs about Glenwood Springs at http://www.ourtownglenwoodsprings.com.