Chamber forum offers outlet for citizen questions on the Grand Avenue Bridge | PostIndependent.com

Chamber forum offers outlet for citizen questions on the Grand Avenue Bridge

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Even if local citizens and elected leaders are able to prompt state transportation officials to study ways to reroute Highway 82 through or around Glenwood Springs, that’s not to say the money to actually build a bypass would follow anytime soon.

Especially given that the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and federal transit officials are operating in “maintenance mode” these days, dollars for new lanes of highway are unlikely, transportation planners said during a “town hall meeting” earlier this week sponsored by the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.

“The days of new alignment roadways are gone, especially those that have major environmental impacts,” observed Jim Charlier, a transportation planning consultant working with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) on downtown redevelopment options in conjunction with the Grand Avenue Bridge replacement project.

“Funding is nearly impossible,” he said. “Money is going away, the economy is changing, and the likelihood of a bypass being built is somewhat small.”

CDOT Engineer Joe Elsen, who is part of the project team that’s working to replace the Grand Avenue Bridge in Glenwood Springs, agreed with that assessment.

New roadways are taking a back seat to keeping the existing highway infrastructure intact, he said.

“CDOT is in a bit of a budget crisis,” said Elsen, who was one of four panelists convened by the chamber for its “Grand Avenue Bridge: Myths, Realities and Opportunities” forum Tuesday evening.

“Gas taxes haven’t been raised in several years, so CDOT is in a maintenance mode,” Elsen said.

CDOT does have dedicated infrastructure maintenance funding through the state’s 2009 FASTER legislation, part of which is meant to fix and replace aging bridges across the state, he said.

The Colorado Bridge Enterprise Fund is where the $59 million in funding to replace the Grand Avenue Bridge is coming from, Elsen explained.

“Bridges are crumbling all over America, and this is funding that must be used specifically to rehab or replace [poorly rated] bridges,” Elsen said. “This can’t be used to add a bypass.”

“The Grand Avenue Bridge needs to be replaced, and the money is there,” he said.

The chamber forum provided an opportunity for citizens to have their questions answered outside the formal CDOT planning process about the proposed bridge replacement and what it would take to get a bypass built.

It was in follow-up to a series of focus group discussions last week inviting business owners and citizens to ask questions and state their concerns about the bridge and related Grand Avenue issues.

A multitude of issues were also covered at the forum, from moving pedestrians safely to the equally controversial Highway 82 Access Control Plan related to Grand Avenue, which carries highway traffic through Glenwood Springs.

John Haines represented the Citizens to Save Grand Avenue group, which formed last summer to urge CDOT and city officials to back off of planning for a new bridge and to instead redirect efforts toward studying a bypass route.

“We want to look at the whole project,” Haines said, noting that the 2010 joint city/CDOT Highway 82 Corridor Optimization Plan provided direction to plan for a secondary route through Glenwood Springs.

“We’re here to ask for an environmental impact study that will take traffic patterns, river, people and city into consideration to come up with the best plan,” Haines said. “Right now all the traffic is on Grand.”

Usually, construction funding is already identified before doing either an Environmental Assessment (EA) or a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the two types of studies required by the National Environmental Policy Act to build a major infrastructure project, Elsen said.

Currently, the bridge project is going through an EA, Elsen said. A decision document is expected in May, which will determine if the impacts are significant enough to trigger the more extensive EIS, he said.

A bypass would have to go through the same review process, Elsen said.

“There is an environmental assessment in process,” he said. “The resulting decision process will state if an EIS is needed.”

A new bridge on the preferred new alignment from Grand Avenue to the intersection of Sixth and Laurel would not preclude a future bypass study, Elsen added.

In any case, a concerted effort would need to be made locally to get a bypass study included as part of the state’s long-range transportation planning process.

“Now is the time, because fixing the bridge will just make traffic worse,” Haines said, pointing to cities such as Breckenridge and Durango that have effective bypasses in place.

Charlier offered that other communities that have main streets serving a dual purpose as a highway route have opted not to build a bypass, including Steamboat Springs and Jackson, Wyo.

The chamber is planning to host similar town hall forums in the coming months to address specific issues around the proposed bridge and related projects, and to further discuss setting up a formal committee to push for a bypass study.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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