City pulls South Bridge back onto front burner
A major Glenwood Springs transportation project that got eclipsed in recent years by the massive Grand Avenue bridge project and related work is moving back into view.
The city is expected to approve a contract extension soon for Jacobs Engineering to make revisions and file a new record of decision for an environmental assessment of the South Bridge project that’s been 10 years in the making.
A significant change to the proposed new route and Roaring Fork River crossing south of Glenwood connecting Airport Road with Colorado 82 is a revamped interchange involving a highway overpass and on/off ramps, rather than an at-grade signalized intersection.
The interchange design was a result of negotiations with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to allow an at-grade crossing of the Rio Grande Trail that runs parallel to the highway on the historic railroad corridor. The corridor is legally railbanked for potential future restoration of rail service, meaning the rail bed grade cannot be unduly disturbed.
More recently, the city and Garfield County representatives have been discussing with Holy Cross Energy about a possible access road cutting through its property in the vicinity of the new route, city Engineer Terri Partch also said during a City Council work session Thursday.
The access road, if it can be worked out, would funnel side traffic to the new interchange, and eliminate a dangerous intersection at County Road 154 as well as a driveway into the Holy Cross headquarters.
Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky cautioned that those discussions are fairly new and any agreements are a ways off.
“The county would very much like to see that intersection  closed, and have all traffic go to the new intersection,” Jankovsky said. “But there are impacts on two property owners if that’s to happen, so we need their blessings on that.”
In addition to Holy Cross, the possible access route would impact a trailer park that sits next to the former Buffalo Valley restaurant.
Completion of the bridge connection is viewed as an important future transportation project for both the city and county to serve the south Glenwood and Four Mile corridor areas.
As it stands, the only way out of that area is via Midland Avenue to 27th Street and onto Colorado 82 from there. Long traffic backups on Midland are common during the morning and evening rush hours, and Midland itself is in need of a complete overhaul.
A southern route out of town was first discussed after the 2002 Coal Seam wildfire during which significant concerns were raised about a safe evacuation route from the remote area. Then-Congressman Scott McInnis was instrumental in securing a $5 million federal earmark to study the route.
The formal environmental review began in 2007, but estimated project costs have mounted over the years, now standing at about $45 million.
Without South Bridge, though, the city is looking at some $35 million in upgrades to Midland, the 27th Street roundabout and bridge, the 82 intersection at 27th, and other infrastructure to handle current and future traffic needs, Partch said.
If the southern alternative route were built, those costs would be somewhat less, she said.
Lacking that infrastructure, the city has been reluctant to approve any new development in the south Glenwood area, including a major annexation a few years ago along Four Mile Road just outside the current city limits known as Glenwood Ridge.
“When we talk about affordable housing, the only place left for any significant development is the Four Mile corridor,” Mayor Mike Gamba said. “But we can’t reasonably promote any more housing up there until we have another way out.”
Even short of new development proposals, there are already approximately 290 approved but unbuilt residential units and several commercial properties in the vicinity that, if built, would add even more traffic to the already stressed road system.
To build South Bridge, though, would require outside funding beyond the city and the county, either from the state or federal resources. Because it’s considered “off system” from a state highway, though, state officials have said it doesn’t qualify for funding.
Gamba said he and others will continue to make the argument that South Bridge and other city transportation projects do go toward easing traffic impacts onto and off of 82.
City Manager Debra Figueroa said the city should also bid for federal funding for the project, but warned that those dollars are hard to get and come with certain strings attached.
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