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Transfer Trail opens Saturday

The Transfer Trail is slated to reopen Saturday, Sept. 26 after being closed for over a month because of the Grizzly Creek Fire.

In a news release Friday, the U.S. Forest Service reports that fire-line suppression repair along the road is complete. The closure covering the Grizzly Creek Fire boundary remains in place.

“We ask that people visiting the area respect the fire closure because there still is some activity in the upper Grizzly Creek drainage and within the interior of the fire perimeter,” said Incident Commander Trainee Doug Lesch in the news release. “Fire personnel and air resources are still being used to hinder fire spread, and we anticipate red flag warnings in the upcoming days that could change fire behavior at any time.”

Hiking trails into the burned area including Hanging Lake, Grizzly Creek and No Name remain closed.

The BLM boat launch at Dotsero Landing remains open for take-out only. Cottonwood Landing above Dotsero remains open for put-in and take-out. The Colorado River recreation areas from Dotsero through Glenwood Canyon to No Name remain closed.

Completion of Glenwood Canyon paving project signals end of head-to-head traffic

After a summer fraught with challenges, the $14 million Interstate 70 Glenwood Canyon Surface Improvements Project is done.

“We are well overdue for a bit of good news in [Glenwood] canyon after the last couple of months,” Colorado Department of Transportation executive director Shoshana Lew said at a brief ceremony recognizing completion of the project Wednesday.

One lane of westbound traffic will be open in the canyon starting Friday, CDOT Project Engineer Josh Cullen said.

The upper and lower decks of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon near Grizzly Creek MM 121.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

There are various finishing touches being taken care of in the canyon that altogether require a lane closure, CDOT Region 3 Communications Manager Elise Thatcher said.

Although the paving project is done, road work isn’t completely finished in the canyon.

“We still have some ongoing work in the eastbound [lanes] for the next month or so. We have a bridge joint to replace at mile 123. Hopefully we’ll be wrapping up by early November,” Cullen said.

Thatcher said drivers can expect one-lane travel in both directions into November.

At the event CDOT representatives thanked travelers and celebrated the completion of a project under difficult circumstances.

“I want to thank all the folks who travel the canyon frequently. It’s been a headache to do the head-to-head traffic,” CDOT Region 3 Transportation Director Michael Goolsby said.

“From an engineering perspective … these projects always pose a challenge,” Cullen said. But this year’s challenges were seemingly biblical. He mentioned traffic to the tune of 17,000 vehicles a day, the Grizzly Creek Fire, rockfall and the pandemic.

The project comprised more than repaving.

“At all of the rest areas from No Name up to Siloam Springs we’ve upgraded all the ADA ramps. That was also completed with this project,” Cullen said.

The reconstructed sections of road surface should hold up for more than a decade.

“They’ll hopefully last another 10-20 years. All of the pavement from Hanging Lake to No Name interchange on the westbound lanes has been reconstructed,” CDOT Region 3 engineer Andrew Knapp said, referring to that section as a quadrant.

There is more paving to be done in the future, but that depends on funding.

“The canyon as a whole still has a significant need for new pavement. Anyone who drives the detour can see the deterioration of the asphalt. … We’re hoping whenever funds are available to be able to do another similar phase where the detour has been,” Knapp said.

Polyester concrete

For the elevated sections of I-70, CDOT uses a special paving material called polyester concrete.

“The benefit of this material is that it is flexible, so it’s not prone to cracking, and it’s also waterproof. So we see a lot more durability out of this product, especially in the harsh environment of the canyon with its excessive amounts of freeze-thaw cycles and rockfall impacts,” Knapp said.

Cullen said the polyester concrete is three to four times more expensive than the conventional concrete road surface.

But it’s worth it.

“It’s a durable material that needs less maintenance. … We feel like it provides a long-term value,” Knapp said.

As pleased as the engineers may be that this project is completed they’re already looking forward to the next one.

“We’re just really excited to have one of these quadrants completed. … We’re eager to be able to continue these improvements in other quadrants whenever money is available,” Knapp said.

cwertheim@postindependent.com

I-70 closure through Glenwood Canyon scheduled for midnight Wednesday

Interstate 70 is slated to close in Glenwood Canyon from midnight to 2 a.m. Wednesday.

The closure is to allow the Colorado Department of Transportation to replace lighting in the No Name Tunnel.

“Eastbound motorists will be stopped at Exit 116 (Glenwood Springs) and westbound motorists will be stoppers at Exit 133 (Dotsero),” according to a CDOT news release Monday.

The lighting replacement involves CDOT and the contractor, Casper Electric, installing 676 new LED fixtures.

“The new lighting system will be tied into the Hanging Lake Tunnel Operations Center so the lighting can be monitored and controlled by personnel in the Hanging Lake Tunnel,” the release states. “The updated lights will use less power while allowing more light for the traveling public to have better visibility during the day and night.”

The work is part of a $3.5-million project that began April 2020 and is slated for completion by January 2022, CDOT states.

RFTA on Glenwood’s Rio Grande corridor? It’s a possibility

Glenwood Springs is not yet ready to rule out routing RFTA buses down the Rio Grande corridor.

The idea was brought up in a presentation by city engineer Terri Partch about the MOVE study at Thursday’s regular City Council meeting.

One of the purposes of the presentation, according to the staff report in council’s packet, was “confirmation of the direction forward with the study alternatives.”

“Are there any [bus rapid transit] options that we should not continue forward with?” Partch asked at the end of her presentation.

“I think the Rio Grande idea is a no-starter,” Councilor Tony Hershey said.

Despite a majority of council being opposed to the idea of using the Rio Grande corridor, councilors gave Partch the OK to continue looking into all options.

MOVE study

RFTA and the city are coordinating on the MOVE study to plan for growth in population — and subsequently traffic — in Glenwood Springs. 

“The main purposes behind the MOVE study were to evaluate having BRT in our downtown area, looking at some of our parking issues, then looking at vehicle operations and safety for pedestrians and bikes,” Partch said.

The 55 minutes of presentation and discussion focused largely on an alignment for RFTA BRT service from roughly the Colorado River south to the existing BRT station. Also discussed were dedicated bus lanes on Grand Avenue. 

Possible BRT alignments

Of five routes to run buses to south Glenwood — including remaining on Grand Avenue — the Rio Grande corridor dominated the discussion.

Partch’s presentation showed several slides of buses separated from bikers or hikers by a wooden fence. 

Councilor Paula Stepp asked about how the backyards that border the Rio Grande would be sheltered from the buses.

Partch answered that it would be the same method used to separate the bus corridor from the trail, such as fences, walls and vertical separation, meaning the bus corridor would be somewhat elevated.

Councilor Steve Davis was not enthusiastic about any of the study suggestions.

“I don’t like anything I see here. I particularly don’t like [using] the Rio Grande Trail and having buses running up and down in the backyards of houses,” he said.

The Downtown Development Authority board preferred the RFTA trail alignment, while the city Transportation Committee was strongly opposed, according to the staff report.

Another option favored by a focus group was the “hybrid,” using Grand Avenue to 14th Street and then transitioning to the Rio Grande Trail from 14th to Eighth.

Dedicated bus lanes 

Removing Grand Avenue parking to establish dedicated bus lanes was an option to improve the speed of buses as compared to cars.

In feedback provided to the project and presented by Partch, the Downtown Development Authority was concerned about the loss of parking on Grand as well as turning Grand into a “highway” with three travel lanes in each direction with this option.

Mayor Jonathan Godes said that removing parking from Grand Avenue would be an option he would consider removing from the study.

MOVE forward

Davis told Partch, “I hope you’re not spending a lot of time on this because I think the community’s going to be not even lukewarm but cold on most of this.”

Councilor Charlie Willman was more forgiving.

“When I said, ‘We should continue to explore all options,’ I meant ‘What’s the best way we can get this done that serves everybody’s needs,’” he said.

Councilor Rick Voorhees also was in favor of exploring options, no matter how “unpalatable” he found BRT on the Rio Grande corridor or dedicated bus lanes on Grand Avenue.

“I don’t like those two options either, but I don’t want to foreclose them at the moment,” he said.

Councilor Shelley Kaup was on vacation and did not attend the meeting.

cwertheim@postindependent.com

RFTA gets $13M grant for regional transit center in West Glenwood

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority was awarded a $13 million Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) transportation discretionary grant for its Regional Transit Center project, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao announced Wednesday.

RFTA’s project renovates and expands the satellite maintenance facility into a regional transit hub, as part of Phases 4 and 5 to develop a Regional Transit Center. These upgrades include renovating the administration center, relocating an access road, constructing bus building 30B with approximately 30 indoor storage spaces, and building drive lanes and pre-trip inspection zones.

RFTA’s Glenwood Springs Maintenance Facility was originally constructed in 2002 as a satellite facility with capacity to store and maintain 34 buses. However, today RFTA regularly operates 44 buses from the facility, exceeding its capacity by 30 percent.

The project addresses overcapacity conditions at the current facility, and reduces wear and tear on vehicles that currently idle outside during winter. Increasing RFTA’s operational capacity enables RFTA to expand its rural transportation services in response to population growth along State Highway 82 and Interstate 70 corridors, creating affordable and reliable trips to employment centers and job opportunities.

By reducing deadheading from other RFTA facilities and bringing bus storage indoors, RFTA’s buses will consume less fuel and emit fewer emissions.

The project creates additional environmental sustainability benefits by facilitating the transition to battery electric buses and incorporating a ground-source heat pump into the building’s design.

“This administration is making significant investments in infrastructure, and this $1 billion in BUILD grants will repair, rebuild and revitalize transportation systems across America,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.

The program selection criteria encompassed safety, economic competitiveness, quality of life, state of good repair, environmental sustainability, innovation and partnerships with a broad range of stakeholders. For this round of BUILD Transportation grants, the maximum grant award is $25 million, and no more than $100 million can be awarded to a single state, as specified in the appropriations act.

Underpass coming to 27th Street and Highway 82

A pedestrian underpass could be coming to the intersection of 27th Street and Colorado Highway 82 in 2021.

The Glenwood Springs City Council voted last month to build an underpass at 27th Street and Highway 82 — and to commit $500,000 towards grants to pay for it.

Following nearly an hour-and-a-half of infrastructure discussions at the Aug. 20 meeting, city engineer Terri Partch prefaced her presentation by saying, “We do have some very important capital projects that are not maintenance needs. This is one of them.”

Colorado Department of Transportation Region 3 Engineer Andrew Knapp said that 27th and Highway 82 is at the top of CDOT’s list for improving pedestrian safety.

“Understanding Highway 82 up and down the valley, this is probably the top priority for a separated grade pedestrian underpass since a lot of our other major intersections already have these facilities,” he said in a follow-up interview.

On June 3, 2018, Scott William Adams of Glenwood Springs was struck and killed crossing 27th Street by bicycle just before midnight.

Data provided by Elise Thatcher, CDOT Region 3 Communications Manager, shows that for 2015 through 2019, there were three other, non-fatal bike-auto accidents at the intersection.

There were no pedestrian-auto accidents reported for that five-year period.

Diagrams from the presentation show the underpass going under Highway 82 on the south side of the intersection, near the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority Bus Rapid Transit stop, and meeting the Rio Grande Trail on the other side. The Rio Grande would then go under 27th Street to the northwest corner.

Partch said that RFTA is taking the lead on this project and has contributed $4.2 million from the Destination 2040 property tax measure.

CDOT has awarded three grants totaling $3.2 million, she said.

RFTA is asking the city for help with additional funding sources, Partch said. At the time those were matching grants from the state Department of Local Affairs and the Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District.

An artist’s rendering of the 27th Street underpass project showing the underpass going from the RFTA BRT station across Highway 82 to the Rio Grande Trail.
RFTA

“We’re being asked to essentially commit this evening to approximately $500,000 to leverage a $9 million project?” Mayor Jonathan Godes asked, with which Partch agreed.

City manager Debra Figueroa said, “It’s in the (Acquisitions & Improvements) draft budget, so it’s up to council whether you’re willing to commit to that.”

Godes then moved to approve the funding with Councilor Charlie Willman seconding, and the vote was unanimous in favor.

More recently, the city has decided to ask the Department of Local Affairs for a grant to help pay for a water line from the Roaring Fork pump station to the treatment plant, which will be discussed at the Sept. 17 City Council meeting.

The $500,000 is still committed to the underpass, but it would now go toward just the FMLD grant, Partch said in a follow-up interview.

The grant would provide $1 million in addition to the city’s $500,000, bringing the total committed to the project to $8.9 million. Partch said the total cost for the project is estimated to be $9 million to $10 million.

“The city will likely go after DOLA funding in the spring to reach the whole project estimate,” Partch said in an email.

There is no estimate available regarding how many people would likely use the underpass.

“Last winter peak season, prior to COVID becoming an issue, we had about 1,000-1,200 estimated average weekday and Saturday daily boardings and alightings at the 27th street BRT station,” David Johnson, RFTA director of planning, said in an email. While these riders could get on another bus, hop in their parked car, get picked up or exit via Blake Avenue instead of using the underpass, the numbers show how busy the bus station can be.

In addition, Johnson said the average number of people crossing the Rio Grande counter from January to July 2020 was 102 per day.

Before it approved funding, council was tasked with deciding whether an underpass or overpass would be best for that intersection. Partch said the city Transportation Commission voted unanimously on the underpass for access and aesthetic reasons.

Councilor Paula Stepp asked what kind of effect underpass construction would have on traffic.

Partch said it would cause “significant disruption.” 

She also said that the city would work with contractors of this project and the South Midland reconstruction project to assure that traffic impacts would not occur at the same time. Partch said the bulk of the South Midland project would be done in 2021, while the bulk of the underpass work would be done in 2022.

Councilor Rick Voorhees asked if the underpass design includes bike access.

“I would advocate for a ramp adjacent to stairs,” Partch replied.

Councilor Steve Davis made a motion to build an underpass, Councilor Shelley Kaup seconded it, and the vote was unanimous in favor.

cwertheim@postindependent.com

RFTA scores another multi-million-dollar grant for Glenwood facility

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority this week secured its second multimillion dollar federal grant for expansion of the Glenwood Springs maintenance facility.

RFTA learned this week it received a $13 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development grant program, also known as BUILD.

That comes on the heels of receiving an $11.475 million Federal Transit Administration grant in August.

“With these two grants, and approximately $21.6 million in additional State grant funding and RFTA bond proceeds, RFTA anticipates it will be able to complete all four phases of the project over the next two to four years, making bus maintenance and storage activities safer and more efficient in the short term and positioning RFTA to meet future ridership demand created by residential and commercial growth over the next 20 years or more,” RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said in an email.

The project will also create numerous construction jobs to boost an economy facing uncertainty because of the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

RFTA has applied for numerous grants for the project in the past. The prior applications were highly rated, Blankenship said, but there was stiff competition for limited funds. RFTA didn’t make the cut until now.

“To receive two major grant awards in the same year speaks to the merits of the project as well as to the persistence of RFTA board members and staff, who have worked diligently with Colorado’s Congressional delegation and U.S. Department of Transportation officials to build awareness of the critical need to expand the maintenance capability of the nation’s largest rural transit agency,” Blankenship wrote.

Colorado U.S. Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet supported the grant applications as did U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, whose district includes the Roaring Fork Valley.

Friday Grizzly Creek Fire update: Coffee Pot Road to reopen Saturday, suppression repair continues

Friday Grizzly Creek Fire update: Coffee Pot Road to reopen Saturday as crews continue suppression repairs

With 91% of the Grizzly Creek Fire contained, Coffee Pot Road is slated to reopen Saturday.

The road is a popular access point to the Flat Tops and has been closed because of dangers resulting from the Grizzly Creek Fire. Transfer Trail will remain closed because of heavy equipment traffic in the area.

The decision to reopen Coffee Pot Road was made by the Bureau of Land Management and the White River National Forest and announced Friday.

 “We understand the high public interest in accessing the Coffee Pot Road. We still have crews working in the area, so we are asking people to drive carefully, and if they are hunting, to be aware of their surroundings,” said White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams in the news release.  

 “Be mindful in doing your part to minimize road damage as you drive onto open side roads north of Coffee Pot Road,” said BLM Colorado River Valley Field Manager Larry Sandoval. “If your vehicle begins to cause ruts, please consider other access options, and know that repaired fire suppression lines are not open to motorized travel.”

Bureau of Land Management and national forest closures south of Coffee Pot Road remain in effect.

The BLM boat launch at Dotsero Landing will also open Saturday for take-out only. Lyon’s Gulch and Cottonwood Landing above Dotsero remain open for put-in and take-out. The Colorado River recreation areas from Dotsero through Glenwood Canyon to No Name remain closed.  

The Grizzly Creek Fire is 32,431 acres in size and began Aug. 10 in Glenwood Canyon. It’s currently being managed by the Type 3 Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire and Aviation Management Unit with about 100 personnel.

Weary warblers: Birds seen acting strangely after the cold snap

Those weary Wilson’s warblers.

Area residents have been noticing the little yellow and green birds in their yards — sometimes acting punch-drunk — following the cold snap and snowfall earlier this week.

While it seems logical that the behavior is due to the cold snap, there may be two separate things going on simultaneously.

A large number of dead birds in the Fryingpan Valley was reported by residents Wednesday on the Roaring Fork Road and Weather Facebook page.

The event might not be exclusive to the Roaring Fork Valley — on Saturday, the Las Cruces Sun News reported that migratory birds are dying in “unprecedented” numbers throughout New Mexico.

Ecologist John Emerick of Redstone said that he also noticed the die-off of warblers the morning after the snowfall.

“We rarely see dead birds on our road … but the morning of the snow we found seven,” he said. “They were apparently really stressed by the snow and the cold.”

He said he found Wilson’s warblers, MacGillivray’s warblers and yellow-rumped warblers dead.

Emerick, a retired faculty member at the Colorado School of Mines, said the warblers are neotropical migrants that winter in more southerly and warmer latitudes. 

“They’re particularly at risk when we have an early cold snap like we just had,” he said.

While the cold snap apparently killed some birds, it may not be responsible for what appears to be strange behavior, such as birds flying into houses or windows or getting hit by cars.

It might make it seem like a bad year for the birds, but Emerick thinks the behavior may be so visible because it’s been a good year for warblers.

“Every year is a little bit different. Some years we see hardly any. This just happens to be a year when warblers seem to be especially prevalent,” he said.

So, it might be there are simply more warblers to see this fall as they prepare to migrate.

“They’re probably flocking up, getting ready to go south,” Emerick said.

Emerick said the odd behavior can probably be chalked up to young birds.

“I think we have a lot of fledglings right now,” he said. “They’re still gaining their strength. They’re learning how to act like birds,” and aren’t too good at it yet.

Another explanation is the birds got blown off their normal migratory route by the storm that caused the cold snap or by one like it along their route.

“You see birds species showing up in strange spots and showing up in groups, landing for a few days, then they’re gone again,” said Phil Nyland, wildlife biologist for the White River National Forest Aspen-Sopris District.

Migration is hard enough without getting blown off course.

“A cold snap or weather event can disrupt the migration pattern, and migration is an energetically costly event,” Nyland said. “It’s not surprising that people are seeing birds that are dead or birds that are struggling.”

The combination of fall storms and fall migration can make unusual sightings possible.

“It just seems like we’re in the right time period for those weird observations to occur,” Nyland said.

Emerick agrees that being blown off course is a possibility, but he has seen lots of warblers all year, not just in the fall.

“Weather events often misdirect migrating birds,” Emerick said. “But we’ve had a lot of warblers all summer.” 

Emerick said there isn’t much one can do to help the birds.

“When you’re driving, reduce your speed a few miles per hour,” he said.

Putting out food for them is unlikely to do any good.

“Warblers are insectivores, so they typically don’t come to feeders,” Emerick said.

Perhaps they could be interested in a few thousand elm seed bugs?

cwertheim@postindependent.com

When rain follows fire: Glenwood Springs hosts webinar about post-fire dangers

Glenwood Springs residents and others living near the Grizzly Creek Fire area should consider getting flood insurance as soon as possible, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spokesperson said. 

More than a dozen specialists participated in a post-fire planning webinar hosted by the city of Glenwood Springs to help inform people about a wildfire’s dangerous aftermath.

Chief among those dangers were flash floods, mudflows and debris flow events. 

“Unfortunately, while the community is recovering from the fire, they are also dealing with flooding,” said Erin May, a FEMA National Flood Insurance Program specialist. “The biggest risk is in the first 1-3 years, but the major flooding in Boulder and Larimer counties (2013) occurred 10 years after wildfire scarred the area.” 

While most of the webinar centered on information presented during the Sept. 3 City Council meeting, FEMA representatives and a Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson provided information about flooding damage to homes and emergency plans for flooding on Interstate 70.

“This is all about letting you know what comes after the fire,” Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said. “It’s not an attempt to add anxiety or create hysteria, but we want you to know what you should be prepared for.”

FEMA spokesperson Peter Reinhardt said fire scars — the burned area left in the wake of a wildfire — create an ideal environment for flash floods. Without vegetation to keep sediment in place, even standard rain events can cause flash floods and mud flows.

A mudflow, May explained, is a river of liquid and moving mud, which is covered by the National Flood Insurance Program. Mud slides, however, are not covered by the program.

“Mud slides (aka landslides) look like crumbled cake,” she said. “And mud flows resemble debris-filled malted milkshakes.” 

Both can happen in the wake of a devastating wildfire, but CDOT has a plan, CDOT Communications Manager Elise Thatcher said.

“We are prepositioned and keeping on eye on the weather very closely,” Thatcher said. “If there is a flash flood watch for the Grizzly Creek Fire area, we will move to standby.”

If a flash flood warning is issued for the area, Thatcher said CDOT will deploy their response teams and close the interstate from Exit 116 (Glenwood) to Exit 133 (Dotsero).

Once closed, residents and travelers within the closure area would be evacuated, she added.

As a result of the fire, CDOT is monitoring infrastructure, including culverts, that could be affected during a debris-flow event throughout the canyon. CDOT engineers and maintenance teams will continue those monitoring and review efforts throughout the fall and winter, Thatcher said.Go to www.floodsmart.gov for more information about flood insurance, flood maps and coverage. May encouraged homeowners to speak with their local officials about whether or not their homes are at risk.