Council questions $5M expenditure to save airport runway
Glenwood Springs City Council is seeking information with important implications for the city airport.
Councilors asked at their Nov. 5 regular meeting how much money would be saved by not tunneling under the airport runway as part of the South Bridge project.
“If the road went across that grade you couldn’t keep an airport there,” Greg Rippy, chair of the city Airport Commission, said in a follow-up interview.
South Bridge is designed to function as another way to access Highway 82 from the southern parts of Glenwood Springs west of the Roaring Fork River. The city website says it would improve emergency evacuation, emergency service access and local land use access.
The Coal Seam Fire prompted the need for another way for residents up Four Mile Road and the subdivisions at the base of the road to exit the area in case of emergency. Emergency service access is a similar concept, with there being only one way in and out for firefighters or ambulances to service those residents. South Bridge would also serve to lessen traffic over the 27th Street Bridge as residential growth in the area continues, the city website says.
Is the airport worth it?
The tunnel costs $5.2 million, city engineer Terri Partch said, but there would be savings related to not building the tunnel and costs associated with a new alignment as well.
Councilor Shelley Kaup said that spending $5 million or more to keep the airport open will take some thought.
“That’s a big cost decision for the community to weigh, because we could redo a lot of neighborhoods and streets and infrastructure in this town with that kind of money,” she said.
Councilor Steve Davis said it’s important to retain helicopter operations at the airport, which played a key role in firefighting efforts during the Grizzly Creek Fire this year.
“In my mind there will always be the ability to land and fuel helicopters in this community, and [the airport is] probably where it’s at,” he said. He was not as concerned about continuing use of the airport by fixed-wing aircraft.
Mayor Jonathan Godes said Glenwood Springs needs to decide what the best use of the land is.
“We have to have a discussion in this community about what the value is and what we need to do to create value for our ‘shareholders,’” he said.
Savings with no tunnel
The current design with the tunnel is estimated to cost $54.9 million, Partch said at the meeting.
Councilors Charlie Willman and Davis asked about the cost savings of not building the tunnel.
Partch was not willing to commit to a figure, but said grading, utility relocation, drainage and retaining walls would factor into that number.
She said it would cost about $75,000 for the consultant to redesign the plan and come up with a dollar figure for the project with no tunnel. She also said that there is still $3.5 million left in design funds.
On a motion by Davis, which was seconded by Councilor Tony Hershey, council voted unanimously to pay the design consultant no more than $75,000 to determine the cost of the project going across (or through) the runway.
Partch’s presentation was billed as an update and funding support request.
To fund the project the city has set aside $20 million from the Acquisitions and Improvements fund, and RFTA has allocated $4 million. The city is applying for a $29 million Building Resistant Infrastructure and Communities grant from FEMA.
On a motion by Kaup seconded by Councilor Paula Stepp, council voted unanimously to direct staff to seek $17 million to $20 million from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
City manager Debra Figueroa had suggested the city ask for the higher of those amounts.
“Let’s shoot for the moon and see where we land. I was thinking $20 million from CDOT,” she said.
Councilors Stepp, Willman and Davis all said Garfield County should pay as much as the city.
“I agree that Garfield County owes half. We’re building a bridge that’s not even in the city of Glenwood. … This is not our bridge. This is a bridge we’re building for the state and the county, and Glenwood shares some benefit,” Davis said.
On a motion by Councilor Ingrid Wussow, which was seconded by Davis, council also voted unanimously to direct Figueroa to ask Garfield County for the same amount of money the city has set aside for the project — $20 million.
Figueroa had suggested asking the county for half of what the project could not get from grant funding.
At Monday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, Figueroa, Partch and Godes asked for that as well as a letter of support for the project’s BRIC grant.
Commissioner John Martin said fixing Glenwood’s roads is a higher priority and that he gets lots of complaints about roads from Glenwood residents.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said there are hard feelings from when two Glenwood councilors spoke before the Air Quality Control Commission against gas drilling, the county’s main revenue source, but then the city comes to the county asking for money.
He mentioned that the downturn in gas drilling has cut county revenues by several million dollars a year. In regards to funding half of what the project can’t get from grant funding, he said the commission can’t even discuss a funding request like that.
“We can’t give you any kind of commitment until we know what the dollar amount is,” Jankovsky said.
Nevertheless, the commission voted unanimously to write a letter of support for the project’s BRIC grant.
Partch’s update included details about the current project design.
• The left turn option from County Road 154 (the “Buffalo Valley” interchange) would be eliminated. Partch explained that as a cost-saving measure.
“CDOT would have forced us to do an acceleration lane there for that turn, and it was on the order of another $10 million,” she said.
• Highway 82 access to Holy Cross and the Jackson Ranch would be closed, with access to both coming off the new road as it connects with Highway 82.
• Highway 82 access to Red Canyon Road would move to a frontage road that connects with the new interchange.
• There would be sidewalks along nearly the entire route, including through the tunnel, except for the south side of the new road from the Jackson Ranch exit to Highway 82. Pedestrians would have to cross the new road east of the Jackson exit to move between the north and south sidewalks.
• The Rio Grande Trail would be routed under the new road.
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.