Council wonders which route to take
Post Independent Staff
Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series. Part two will look at City Council’s divergent views about what should be included on a transportation tax measure this fall, and how big a tax should be put before voters.
Should Glenwood Springs relocate Highway 82 onto the Roaring Fork River corridor?
After years of wrestling with that question, some city officials think it may be time to get some clear direction from voters.
City Council member Dan Richardson said he would like to see city residents asked to give an up-or-down vote on the idea. Highway 82 currently follows Grand Avenue through town. City attorney Karl Hanlon said an election could help council decide how to proceed. He said he has watched past and present councils struggle with the issue.
“It is hamstringing policy development one way or the other,” Hanlon said. “It would help to know what’s on citizens’ minds,” he said.
Council is currently deciding what would be funded by a transportation tax it plans to put on this fall’s ballot.
Last fall, voters narrowly defeated a tax increase covering a variety of transportation projects, including continued work on a Highway 82 relocation. However, supporters ran a low-key campaign and there was little debate over the relocation. Despite the tax’s defeat, voters did agree to let the city borrow money for the project.
The city is a member of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which owns the railroad corridor from Aspen to Glenwood. Over the years, the city has eyed the corridor as a possible site for 82, and has purchased nearby property with that end in mind.
Meanwhile, much of the rail corridor in town is being used as a recreational path. And Richardson thinks a growing number of city residents don’t support paving the corridor to ease Highway 82 congestion.
“Not everybody thinks another road will solve that problem,” he said.
Fellow council member Chris McGovern is a fervent advocate of relocating 82. She believes the recent congestion on Grand Avenue related to construction along the Midland Avenue alternate route proves the need for moving the highway.
“People cannot get around Glenwood Springs. We are in gridlock. Our downtown is close to dying,” she said.
However, McGovern agrees with Richardson that as Glenwood Springs’ demographics are shifting, so are views about what the city should do about Highway 82. Many residents are learning to stay off Grand Avenue during evening rush hour, and don’t want to be asked to contribute taxes “to take care of a problem that is really not their problem,” she said.
McGovern believes addressing Highway 82’s problems is more of a county and state responsibility than Glenwood’s. She questions traffic studies suggesting that only a third of Grand Avenue traffic is pass-through traffic, and believes the actual amount is higher.
Don “Hooner” Gillespie, a former council member, spoke to council last week and urged it not to back off pursuing a Highway 82 relocation.
Marianne Virgili, a member of the Community on the Move political group that has helped promote past tax measures in town, said the city needs to pursue nonmotorized transportation solutions, such as bike lanes and bus transportation. However, it also must find a way to get trucks off Grand Avenue, she said.
Floyd Diemoz, a member of the city’s Transportation Committee, agreed.
“Every crane that wants to go do a job up in Aspen ends up going up Grand Avenue,” he said. “We still need another way of getting through town, whether it’s two lanes or four lanes or what.”
He believes the city has spent too long studying the Highway 82 issue.
“We’ve got to put an end to these studies and finally decide what we’re going to do since Glenwood’s future depends on it,” he said.
Diemoz likes the idea of a public vote, but said he thinks it should simply ask whether residents want Highway 82 moved, and then the city should rely on an environmental impact statement to look at where it should go.
Hanlon said that would ensure the EIS process was objective. But he believes the EIS would still be valid even if the city votes first on a specific corridor, and he said a vote that isn’t specific would be meaningless.
City manager Jeff Hecksel suggested avoiding an election, in which voters are influenced by campaigning, and doing scientific polling instead.
“You’d get a fair, honest opinion about the way an issue looks to a person,” he said.
Diemoz believes that ultimately, the city shouldn’t be expected to reach a consensus on relocating 82 before going forward with the project.
“If we had required 100 percent consensus, Glenwood Canyon would not have been built,” he said, referring to the Interstate 70 construction through the canyon.
Diemoz played a key citizen advisory role in ensuring that project was built in an environmentally sensitive way.
Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516
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