Kicking the can down the road? Skepticism follows Glenwood Springs Council vote on airport tunnel
Glenwood Springs Airport users are cautiously optimistic about the city council’s decision to build a tunnel for the South Bridge project design, which could preserve the airport’s runway and hangers.
Eric Strautman, a Glenwood Springs resident and pilot who uses the city’s airport frequently, said the decision to tunnel underneath the runway was the right one to make.
Strautman said that the South Bridge discussion has left the city’s Airport Board unable to develop the facility.
“The airport is self-sustaining and pays for itself. There’s been plea after plea after plea of ‘let us make this better.’
“The city really hasn’t seen it as an asset,” Strautman said. “What’s nice is in talking to the city council and mayor, they’re just starting to realize what a gem they have.”
It was drought-stressed vegetation that fueled the state’s third-largest wildfire, the Pine Gulch Fire, which burned through 139,007 acres and was started by a lightning strike on July 31, 2020, about 18 miles north of Grand Junction.
During a Feb. 25 public presentation, City Engineer Terri Partch also estimated models of lives and property loss without the South Bridge based on that and other wildfires that burned in Colorado last year, the Cameron Peak Fire and the East Troublesome Fire.
The city has been planning and designing a second southern bridge connection to Colorado Highway 82 from south Glenwood since 2007. The Feb. 25 presentation looked at the cost-benefit model for the project as developed for the city’s FEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Grant application.
The South Bridge project’s total estimated cost is approximately $50.7 million without the tunnel, and $56.7 million with. The city is seeking a $31 million FEMA grant for its construction and plans to request further funding from the Garfield County Commission.
Strautman said he’s visited with Mayor Jonathan Godes about the airport and what’s next for the facility if the tunnel option is the final plan.
“Let’s either close this airport or make it the best darn airport in the state,” Strautman said Godes told him recently.
“I don’t think there’s anyone that wants to move the airport,” Strautman said.
Godes made an impassioned plea to his fellow council members as a resident in the South Glenwood area, which would rely on the South Bridge to evacuate in the event of a wildfire.
“Be prepared for a tunnel, six more years of wondering every year during fire season, is this the year? Forget about all the other fires we’ve had,” Godes said.
“Every year, people in my neighborhood and Four Mile are going to have to load up their cars like they do every year.”
Godes said the added time to find the funding for the project and the additional costs associated would push the completion date to 2027.
“The other thing six years does is time, value, money, interest rates, inflation,” Godes said, estimating that the inflation would amount to $15 million in additional costs to the project.
Godes said he and his neighbors are going to have to make significant sacrifices.
An owner of a maintenance business that services planes at the airport, Jeffrey Harstad, said he wasn’t aware that the city was seriously considering something other than the tunnel plan.
“I know they were trying to shorten it a little bit and go without that tunnel. A lot of the pilots came in and talked to me about that. I’m concerned that I’d have to move my hangar,” Harstad said.
Harstad said Classic Air Medical, which provides air transportation for patients throughout the area, uses the airport the most, according to his own observations.
“The medical fixed wing uses the runway once in a while,” Harstad said.
Harstad said he’s hoping that the city doesn’t just kick the decision down the road.
Godes said the tunnel plan, in his opinion, kills the South Bridge project due to the high price tag.
Godes said the city just does not have the funds and cannot rely on hope.
“I hope we don’t just kick this can down the road,” Godes said.
Strautman is hopeful that the city commits to the tunnel plan.
“The main thing that the city can do is just let everyone plan on it staying an airport. If we lose a little here and there, the pilot community is going to deal with that.”
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