City Council talks Glenwood Springs transportation projects

MOVE study put on hold for now

Chrissy Suttles
Post Independent correspondent

Glenwood Springs City Council last week moved forward a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority plan prioritizing a pedestrian underpass at 27th Street and Colorado Highway 82.

The plan would redirect roughly $700,000 in Destination 2040 property tax funding to the underpass project. More than $2 million is still needed to complete the $10.1 million crossing – approved by Council in August to improve safety at the busy intersection.

The RFTA Board of Directors is set to vote Jan. 14 whether to delay a host of service improvement projects in Glenwood Springs, and instead focus on the underpass construction.

Among the possible deferrals are $298,000 dedicated to a downtown Bus Rapid Transit extension and $395,000 to reroute local RFTA buses to Highway 6 and 24.

By deferring these improvements for two or three years, RFTA hopes to close the funding gap and expedite construction before state-issued grants expire — putting the underpass out to bid in September for a construction period of at least nine months.

“We are preparing for this spring, or early summer, to offer a bond package for a number of capital projects RFTA will be advancing from (Destination 2040),” said Kurt Ravenschlag, RFTA’s chief operating officer. “And we would like to include this project in that package.”

RFTA has already allocated nearly $4.3 million for the underpass through Destination 2040, and the agency received more than $3 million in state and Colorado Department of Transportation funding for the project. Glenwood Springs set aside $500,000 in the city’s 2021 budget to leverage grants, but failed to secure a $1 million Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District grant.

Project leaders were told the Colorado Department of Local Affairs would not financially support the endeavor, either, because it was within the state right-of-way.

When asked if there’s a chance Garfield County might contribute to funding, Glenwood Springs City Manager Debra Figueroa said it’s “highly unlikely.”

“That being said, if you guys want to ask, we can always send a letter, schedule a meeting,” she told Council.

City Engineer Terri Partch said some of the improvements slated for deferral are already in consideration through the MOVE Study, adding that the underpass is vital to pedestrian safety.

In 2018, a Glenwood Springs man was struck and killed crossing 27th Street by bicycle at night, and CDOT records show at least three other non-fatal bike-vehicle collisions reported at the intersection from 2015 to 2019. Police cite “numerous misses” at the intersection, too, Partch said.

The crossing would begin below Highway 82 near the RFTA’s Bus Rapid Transit stop to meet the Rio Grande Trail on the opposite side. The Rio Grande would then go below 27th Street to the northwest corner.

MOVE Study extension

City Council on Thursday also voted against extending the MOVE Study using money dedicated to Rio Grande Trail improvements.

The city is partnering with RFTA and outside consultants to develop a 20-year plan that addresses infrastructure and transportation needs in Glenwood Springs, including Bus Rapid Transit extensions, new transfer stations and downtown parking.

City staff and RFTA asked for more time to retain consultants, develop virtual modeling and collect public input on a variety of transportation issues. The authority will likely consider alternatives to extend the study.

The six-month extension would have cost $180,000, and RFTA asked the city to fund half – $90,000 – from the recent Municipal Operations Center sale dedicated to Rio Grande Trail improvements. Staff said the trail improvements could be made with far less than expected.

“RFTA intends to extend our BRT to West Glenwood Springs to be able to connect to our additional members…as well as to serve our customers who live in the Colorado River Valley,” Ravenschlag said. “If the answer was clear on how we were to accomplish that, we probably wouldn’t need a study. But the answer isn’t clear.”

The city has already dedicated $300,000 to the roughly $600,000 study; many on council called any additional funding wasteful.

“I hate studies,” said Councilor Steve Davis. “It seems like, every time we do one, we put it on a shelf and forget it, or we’re coming back trying to get more money allocated to complete these studies.”

Councilor Tony Hershey agreed, calling attention to years of Aspen commuter rail studies.

“It’s just wasted money that never amounted to anything,” he said.

Councilor Shelley Kaup, though, said the study is “really important” from a transportation standpoint.

“It can really affect the confluence, and travel in and out of downtown Glenwood Springs, especially as we look to develop the confluence,” she said.

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