Bridge debate spans the decade
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
In light of the Minneapolis disaster, bridges are in the news these days.
The Colorado Department of Transportation wanted to pay to replace the Grand Avenue Bridge in Glenwood Springs 10 years ago. Today, there’s still a narrow bridge with increased traffic and the only alternate route is Midland Avenue. Construction costs to replace the old bridge have not gotten cheaper.
City Council at that time voted not to support CDOT’s plans.
“It was not a good decision,” Ralph Trapani said. “From my perspective it really caused CDOT to kind of step back and say, ‘Well, if the city doesn’t want this there are a lot of other bridges that need to be replaced. … The money just disappeared and there is no plan or fund to replace that bridge. Ten years further down the road and we’re no closer to a bypass.”
Trapani worked as a CDOT program engineer in 1997. He questions whether Midland could even handle the additional traffic if funds were found to close and rebuild the bridge.
In split votes, city council at the time failed to pass a resolution supporting CDOT’s initiation of a planning process to replace the bridge. Instead, that council passed a resolution to begin a comprehensive traffic and route alternative study, according to Oct. 2, 1997 city council minutes.
“I think the community consensus was to not allow CDOT to replace it unless there was a commitment to do a bypass,” said Greg Jeung, a council member at the time, who voted in support of CDOT. “Otherwise the thought was if they put a lot of money into Grand Avenue then there wouldn’t be any part from CDOT down the road about getting a Highway 82 alternative.”
He said the bridge was inadequate for the amount of traffic it had at that time.
The safety issue didn’t really come up back then, but he added, “I’ve thought about it sitting on the bridge at 5 o’clock and the whole thing shakes.”
Little support back then
The city council minutes show a list of residents mostly urging council not to support CDOT moving forward at that time. Among the reasons mentioned were that a larger bridge would hurt downtown businesses and damage the character of the city.
A representative of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association said the chamber decided replacing the bridge would not solve traffic problems in the valley. Hank Bosco from the Hot Springs Lodge and Pool said he was concerned that building a new bridge could damage the hot mineral water aquifer that feeds the pool and that a bypass solution was needed. He also said the project would have a “severe and negative” impact.
“What looks to you to be a lot of complaints was generated by a very carefully crafted campaign to stop the reconstruction of that bridge,” Trapani said. “It was a very difficult time for me because I feel like business interests in Glenwood Springs ended up driving that decision, not the legitimate interests of public safety and traffic.”
CDOT currently rates the bridge at 47.7 on a scale of 1 to 100 and calls it functionally obsolete. The Minneapolis bridge that collapsed on Aug. 1 was reported to have an efficiency rating of 50. The death toll is now at 11.
CDOT says the rating does not mean the Glenwood bridge is unstable. It has more to do with it being too narrow for the number of cars that pass over it.
Trapani said CDOT also rated the bridge functionally obsolete 1997. A pier supporting the bridge forced CDOT to build the westbound Interstate 70 off-ramp shorter than it should be and also with less taper length.
Bridge reconstruction would have eliminated the pier.
Center pier worries
In the 1997 meeting, Trapani addressed the center pier in the Colorado River. “They cannot tell what is going on with that because it is in the river. There are indications that the top of the concrete foundation is exposed to water, which means there has probably been 10 or more feet of scour to that point and they don’t know what is going on underneath that,” according to the minutes.
Current assistant engineer for Glenwood Springs, Steve Vanderleest, who worked for the city in 1997, said the center pier is in need of repair. Water scours away at the foundation over time and the pier can become unburied from whatever it is buried into, he added.
“The city said thanks but no thanks to CDOT replacing (the bridge),” Vanderleest said. “I think we thought it was a good idea at the time. … It wasn’t politically popular to do it.”
He said he didn’t think the bridge would get replaced any time soon due to the cost and scope of the work it would require. Former council members who voted against CDOT’s plan to replace the bridge couldn’t immediately be reached.
In 1997, councilors Jeung, Lou Trapani (no relation to Ralph) and Marc Adler voted for replacing, while Bob Zanella, Sam Skramstad, Jon Tripp and Don Vanderhoof voted against the replacement.
Contact Pete Fowler: 945-8515, ext. 16611
Post Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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Imagine Glenwood and The City of Glenwood Springs is slated to host a virtual town hall at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 11.