Glenwood acquires railroad ‘wye’ section for $1.5 million
Glenwood Springs city officials have long known why the city should acquire the eastern section of the railroad “wye” area downtown, which connects the Union Pacific main line with the long-sleepy Rio Grande Corridor.
How the city could acquire it, and for how much, however, has proven challenging. But the deal ultimately got done earlier this month.
For roughly two decades, a changing guard of city staff members, at the direction of different city councils, drove home the idea of connecting the downtown portion of Eighth Street to Midland. However, the railroads derailed the plans until recently.
“It transfers all of the Union Pacific’s easement rights in the wye area to the city of Glenwood Springs, with the exception of the reservation for a quest easement that they’re responsible for,” City Attorney Karl Hanlon explained to City Council at a recent meeting.
“This is significant because it allows for Eighth Street to remain the way it is,” he said of the city’s goal to secure the Eighth Street connection to Midland Avenue west of City Hall — built as a temporary detour route during the Grand Avenue Bridge construction in 2016 — a permanent street.
“Under our agreement that we negotiated with RFTA … this is one of the final pieces in making Eighth Street permanent and the redevelopment of the wye area,” Hanlon said, referencing an earlier agreement with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority securing the Eighth Street crossing.
RFTA owns the Rio Grande corridor, which is legally railbanked under federal law to preserve it for future freight rail uses, though RFTA’s goal is to keep the door open for a commuter rail service in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Glenwood Springs City Council not only unanimously supported the $1,510,500 wye purchase from UP at its July 5 meeting, but also praised city staff, particularly Hanlon, for negotiating the deal, which at one time carried with it a possible price tag in the $6 million range.
“Like Karl said, he’s been working on this for 18 years, and this town has been stuck by that … wye,” Councilman Todd Leahy said. “We’re unstuck at almost five million dollars less than the original numbers that I heard when I got on council seven years ago.”
To much of the city’s advantage, as part of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s $126 million Grand Avenue Bridge project, the existing Eighth Street connection was cut and paved, providing a more direct link from downtown, across the Roaring Fork River to Midland Avenue.
It didn’t take long for Leahy to make a motion to proceed with the purchase of the wye property, which Councilor Steve Davis quickly seconded. When the motion was called into question, there was absolutely no question how the council felt.
The unanimous vote of support was followed by ardent applause.
According to the 2017 Confluence Redevelopment Plan for the city, the Eighth Street connection, “Towards the end of 2013 … was put on hold due to negotiations between the city and project stakeholders.”
With those negotiations now completed, exactly how the city will capitalize on its newly acquired wye area remains to be seen. The plan includes a street link next to City Hall between Seventh and Eighth Street, crossing the newly acquired property.
As the 2017 Confluence Redevelopment plan illustrates, community input showed Glenwood Springs residents flowed in numerous directions with their ideas.
Residents wanted improved access and recreation along the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers, as well as better “circulation and connectivity within the area and to nearby commercial centers, parks and neighborhoods.”
In addition, there was also strong support for expanded housing options, prioritization of pedestrians, authentic design in conjunction with the city’s historical character, as well as the creation of community spaces for residents and tourists alike.