Bill has $6.2M for Glenwood bridge project
Glenwood Springs has crossed a major bridge in terms of funding the south bridge project, thanks to action in Congress this week.But it still has an airport runway to navigate.Members of Colorado’s congressional delegation say they will allocate a total of $6.2 million for the south bridge project following work in a conference committee to reconcile House and Senate versions of a transportation bill. The bill could be sent to President Bush by the end of this week, and he is expected to sign it.But it still could be several years before work could begin on a project that would extend Midland Avenue south to the Roaring Fork River, where a new bridge would allow it to connect with Highway 82. The city, and possibly Garfield County, might have to come up with another $6 million or so in funding, and the congressional funding also may force the city to revisit whether to close its municipal airport, which stands in the way of a possible route to reach the new bridge.The south bridge project would allow motorists who use Midland Avenue as an alternate route to access the route south of town where there’s less traffic congestion. It also would provide residents of the Four Mile Road corridor with another means of accessing and leaving their homes besides going through town.The congressional funding originates from a push by former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., who is a Glenwood Springs native. During the Coal Seam Fire of 2002, Four Mile residents were forced to evacuate by going through Glenwood Springs, contributing to a traffic jam in the midst of the emergency. That safety issue triggered McInnis’ involvement.His successor, U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., has continued to seek the money. Salazar sought $6.5 million, but the new compromise bill resulted in a 20 percent cut in the dollar amounts for all House projects, leaving $5.2 million for the south bridge work. However, U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., managed to obtain $1 million in additional funds for the project.Allard is chairman of the Senate Housing and Transportation Subcommittee. Salazar is the only Coloradan on the House Transportation Committee.”Glenwood Springs is experiencing major congestion, and the transportation bill will help to alleviate that congestion by funding the Glenwood bridge project,” Allard said in announcing the funding.Glenwood Springs Mayor Larry Emery said the funding “goes a long way toward a part of our long-term traffic and transportation solution for Glenwood Springs.””That other access will I think just help tremendously,” Emery said.But matching the federal money will be a challenge. This fall, city voters will consider a half-cent sales tax measure that might be able to help fund the project. But Emery noted that the chief purpose of the measure is to pay for street maintenance and repair, not new roads.”We’ve got some serious (street) maintenance issues, and that’s why that question will be on the ballot,” he said.Emery said he believes Congress will give local governments five or six years to come up with the matching funds needed to do the south bridge project.”There’s a lot of ways to get projects done. If we’ve got $6 million on the table we’ll find a way to make it a reality,” he said.Emery said the city will need to begin looking into funding options soon, and he is hoping Garfield County will talk with the city about possibly providing some financial assistance. Not only are city residents Garfield County residents as well, but the project would serve many residents beyond those within the city, he said. The Four Mile corridor sits outside city limits, in unincorporated Garfield County, and commuters from downvalley also could use the extended road.Meanwhile, the city has to decide whether the road should skirt the airport, tunnel under it, or go through it if the city chooses to close it, Emery said.In 1997, city voters overwhelmingly decided to keep the airport open. In 2003, council members found themselves split on the issue, and considered putting the matter to voters again, but it never went to the ballot. Airport supporters cite the airport’s value for pilots, economic development and emergency flights, while others say the airport is unsafe for nearby residents and the property could be put to better uses in landlocked Glenwood Springs.”We’ve got some serious discussions to have both as a city and with the county,” Emery said.Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said the county might be willing to help fund the project. But first the city needs to make up its mind about the airport because that will determine the design of the south bridge project and how much money is needed to fund it, he said.”Then we can sit down and talk in earnest. Until then, it’s nothing but theory because they’ve got nowhere to go. It’s a bridge to nowhere,” Martin said.He noted that another lingering concern is that the south bridge funding bypassed the normal Colorado Department of Transportation planning process and may jeopardize other projects that had a higher priority under that process.”That’s whole different political issue you have to deal with when you have earmarked money,” he said.Salazar previously has said the south bridge funding is new money that comes in addition to what would fund other projects, and shouldn’t affect those projects.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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