PI editorial: South Bridge funding a matter of public safety for Glenwood Springs | PostIndependent.com

PI editorial: South Bridge funding a matter of public safety for Glenwood Springs

Editor’s note: This has been corrected to clarify that Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper supported the grant in letters earlier.

The Coal Seam Fire of 2002 might feel like ancient history in Glenwood Springs years.

After, we’ve experienced countless other fires, floods, debris slides — and a pandemic — in the 20 years since.

But despite those more recent events, there are city employees who have kept the biggest lesson from the Coal Seam Fire front and center in their work: the need for another evacuation path for the thousands of city and county residents who call South Glenwood home.

If the Coal Seam Fire had gone just a little bit differently, it could have taken hundreds of lives in South Glenwood, Glenwood Springs City Engineer Terri Partch explained in a meeting with the Post Independent editorial board last week.

“The fire was moving quickly and 82 had become a parking lot,” she said. “Residents on Three and Four Mile roads couldn’t reach the highway.”

If, say, the fire had moved with the speed and ferocity of December 2021’s Marshall Fire, it is near-guaranteed lives would have been lost.

Some might point to Dry Park Road as an alternative route out of the area, but Partch said it’s very likely Dry Park itself would soon become impassable during a major fire event.

If that were to happen, simulations with a fire starting in the Oak Meadows area show that over 1,000 lives could be lost.

Current City Engineer Terri Partch stepped into the role in 2012, and one of the first questions her predecessor asked was where she was at with South Bridge.

(South Bridge) is not a matter of aesthetics or comfort; it’s about getting people out of a really constrained corridor,” Partch said.

For now, those lessons and knowledge gained are a blessing, Partch said — they help distill the importance of a South Bridge not just for staff but for all residents of Glenwood Springs. But as each year passes, the need grows. And so do worries that we’ll run out of time to act before disaster strikes.

Yet this year could finally see South Bridge cross the capital projects finish line, if the city receives the over $30 million Rural Surface Transportation grant it applied for.

That funding, combined with local matching money, would get the city to the final step before construction could begin: the Right of Way process. Roughly 18 months after that could see the project break ground.

So far, the ask has received the support of Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo. While some might question her unwillingness to previously support that funding as part of Biden’s infrastructure bill (she has said her opposition came from what she saw as wasteful spending in the bill), South Bridge is far too important to decline Congressional support because of partisan politicking. It’s also important to note that Democratic Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet offered their support to to project in letters months earlier.

We appreciate them leading the charge with her support and hope it helps encourage other lawmakers and leaders to do the same. Getting Gov. Jared Polis and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg would greatly increase the odds of Glenwood Springs getting that funding — and make our community safer for years to come.

The Post Independent editorial board members are Editor Peter Baumann, Managing Editor/Senior Reporter John Stroud, and community representatives Mark Fishbein and Danielle Becker.

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