Grand Avenue bridge gets final OK, work starts in January
Post Independent Correspondent
GREELEY — Construction on the long-awaited new bridge connecting Interstate 70 with Grand Avenue/Colorado Highway 82 can begin in January after clearing its final hurdle Thursday before Colorado transportation commissioners.
The commissioners, acting as the state Bridge Enterprise Board at a meeting in Greeley, approved an additional $5.3 million that was required to move the project forward.
The new bridge will be built over the course of the next two and a half years, replacing the 62-year-old bridge that, according to transportation officials, has outlived its usefulness.
Had work not been able to start in January, the project would have had to wait until the following winter when water levels are lower in the Colorado River.
The additional $5.3 million in bridge enterprise money overcomes a funding gap to meet the $68.4 million construction price reached on Wednesday between the Colorado Department of Transportation and its pre-selected construction manager, general contractor, Granite Construction/RL Wadsworth, a join venture from the Salt Lake City area.
The full cost of the project, including the public planning, environmental review and design phase that has been going on for the past four years, is $125.6 million, CDOT said in a news release following the final funding decision. In addition to the state Bridge Enterprise Fund and other CDOT dollars, funding includes $3 million each from Glenwood Springs and Garfield County, as well as money from Eagle County and utility companies.
Transportation commissioners unanimously approved the extra funding with no discussion, except a few comments of support.
“This is a needed project, a time-sensitive project, and we need to get started so we don’t have to wait a year,” board chairwoman Kathy Connell said.
“It’s really important,” added Kathy Hall, CDOT District 7 commissioner representing Glenwood Springs. “This project has needed to be done for years … that’s a major corridor for Glenwood.”
CDOT’s program engineer in Glenwood Springs, Steve Olson, noted that project officials have worked closely with the community to achieve a bridge alignment and design that was acceptable.
“We started with a community vision and ended with a bridge design that works for the users and is consistent with the context of this community,” Olson said in a prepared statement. “We are ready to begin the construction phase that, when completed, will provide a safe, functional bridge and enhanced connections for the citizens.”
Glenwood Springs Mayor Mike Gamba also provided a statement on behalf of City Council, Downtown Development Authority Director Leslie Bethel and City Engineer Terri Partch, saying city officials will continue to work closely with CDOT as bridge construction begins.
“City Council has always been unanimously supportive of this project, while we’ve also been insistent that the new bridge and improvements complement Glenwood’s historic downtown character,” the city news release said. “The approved funding includes the full amount for all the distinctive architectural elements and details which are integral to achieving this goal.”
The current Grand Avenue Bridge was built in 1953 as a two-lane road and later expanded to four, 9-foot-wide lanes.
Dave Eller, CDOT Region 3 director, noted that the narrow lanes have been an issue for several years, as large trucks often take up both lanes while crossing the bridge and when turning onto the section of Sixth Street that will be eliminated from the Highway 82 route with the new bridge alignment.
In evaluating the bridge for replacement priority as part of the Bridge Enterprise program, it was deemed functionally obsolete and was one of approximately 150 bridges in Colorado earning a “poor” rating.
Instead of following the existing straight shot across the Colorado River and Interstate 70 to Sixth and Pine, the new bridge will follow a curved alignment from Grand Avenue on the south side of the river to the vicinity of Sixth and Laurel, creating a more direct connection to I-70.
The new highway bridge and accompanying new pedestrian bridge should be complete by June 2018. Construction will include a three-month detour in late 2017 when the existing bridge is to be demolished to make way for the final piece of the new bridge. The detour is to follow a route from I-70 exit 114, along Midland Avenue and back to Grand Avenue via an extension of Eighth Street.
CDOT also plans to close west access to North River Street and use the west end of the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool parking lot as a staging starting in January.
During construction, a temporary pedestrian walkway will be built while the current pedestrian bridge is demolished and a new one built that will include elevator access to Seventh Street and a stairway, similar to the existing one. The pedestrian bridge will also be used to relocate utilities that are under the current highway bridge.
BRACING FOR IMPACTS
The planned bridge replacement has not been without its detractors, some of whom opposed the new bridge alignment and others who said that instead of building a new bridge, CDOT should focus on planning for and funding a Highway 82 bypass that would take highway traffic off Grand Avenue.
One group going by the name Citizens to Save Grand Avenue opposed the project, and had considered possible legal action to block it. The group backed away from that option following the release of the project Environmental Assessment earlier this year that included a finding of “no significant impact.”
The two-year-long construction project will affect businesses along Grand Avenue and on Sixth Street. The new bridge alignment also resulted in the displacement of the Shell service station that used to sit at Sixth and Laurel. CDOT acquired that and other adjacent properties as part of the project.
“It’s been a push here at the end,” Eller said.
Earlier this week, CDOT finished negotiations with Granite/RL Wadsworth on a price agreement for the construction of the bridge. Had CDOT and the contractor been unable to agree on a price within 5 percent of an independent estimate of the cost, CDOT would have had to put the project out to bid, resulting in a year-long delay before construction could begin.
The negotiated price ended up being within 3.2 percent of the estimate, according to Eller, who said he hopes to have the contract signed with Granite RL/Wadsworth in December.
“It’s the transition of four-and-a-half-years of planning and study process into the construction phase,” Project Manager Roland Wagner said.
Eller noted the importance of retaining Granite RL/Wadsworth as the contractor because of its involvement through the design phase. He said a lower bidder could emerge but not have that valuable background knowledge.
Eller was not surprised the commissioners so swiftly approved the additional money, as they were aware of the funding gap and knew approximately what would be requested.
“Honestly, these guys knew a month ago about where we were at,” Eller said.
He said the discussions would be ongoing regarding any sort of bypass should the community revisit the issue in the future. But it is not in any short-term plans, and estimated costs for a bypass between $500 million and $1 billion could prove to be prohibitive, he said.
Post Independent reporter John Stroud contributed to this report.
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