Glenwood still working to keep 8th Street link
Glenwood Springs’ Eighth Street connection from downtown to Midland Avenue is not in any danger of going away after the Colorado Department of Transportation pulls up the final stakes from the Grand Avenue bridge project next year.
Still, the city remains in the process of securing agreements that will ultimately preserve the long-term future of the crucial link that in recent months has served as a key part of the Colorado 82 bridge detour route.
CDOT built the current temporary street connection last fall as part of the $126 million bridge replacement project. The detour was officially lifted late Monday when the new bridge was opened to traffic following a nearly three-month closure while the span was being completed.
A permanent Eighth Street connection has been a priority for the city, though, for going on 20 years. That effort has been complicated by railroad law.
On Thursday, the city and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board finalized a key amendment to a May 2016 easement agreement. That agreement allows a street crossing of the inactive “wye” section of the railroad tracks that historically connected the Union Pacific main line with the dormant Rio Grande corridor, which is maintained by RFTA.
The amended agreement essentially allows for Eighth Street just west of Glenwood City Hall to remain in its current alignment and grade, City Attorney Karl Hanlon explained.
“What’s out there now provides a much better entrance into the downtown than if we were to have to reinstall a railroad bridge there,” he said.
Because the rail line is legally “railbanked” under federal law for future freight, or more likely commuter service, RFTA is required to make sure that the corridor is not severed.
Under the easement agreement with RFTA, if and when that ever happens, the city would need to make a much deeper street cut in order to accommodate a rail bridge, at least to freight standards. That would make for a fairly steep hill to get into downtown Glenwood, Hanlon noted.
“What RFTA and the city agreed to today is that this alignment can remain on a long-term, interim basis until there is some reactivation of the rail line for freight or commuter uses that would need to cross Eighth Street at that location,” he said.
But that’s just the first step in a two-step process, Hanlon said.
The city is also in ongoing negotiations with the Union Pacific Railroad to abandon its interest in the unused wye area. That ultimately will require approval from the federal Surface Transportation Board.
“The UP has taken out the switches on both the east and west sections of the wye, and has indicated they don’t really want to be in there for active operations, at least until there were some type of rail reactivation,” Hanlon said.
UP also maintains an easement agreement with RFTA for the right to conduct rail operations along a portion of the Rio Grande corridor within Glenwood city limits. If the railroad company were to relinquish that, it would also benefit RFTA, Hanlon added.
Should the deal to relinquish the wye easement fall through, however, things get more complicated. At that point, the city would have 24 months to install the bridge and restore the railroad grade. The RFTA agreement also calls for a $534,725 deposit to be paid by the city to RFTA to expedite that construction should it be required.
Hanlon advised the RFTA board that the city hopes to wrap up negotiations with the UP and obtain federal approvals within the next six months.
Eventually, the city plans to bring the Eighth Street link to full city street design standards, with sidewalks and retaining walls. Last week, City Council also got a look at some of the aesthetic design concepts for the area, including a landscaped median and a railroad-themed mural on the retaining walls.
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