Bridge hearing is tonight; public comments sought
When: 5-8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Glenwood Springs Elementary School, 915 School St.
To read document and comment: http://tinyurl.com/BridgeEA
A section of the just-released Grand Avenue Bridge Environmental Assessment talks about the age-old question of whether Glenwood Springs should someday have a State Highway 82 bypass that could serve to reduce traffic coming through downtown.
It’s an option that was addressed as a potential alternative early on in the process of planning for a new bridge across the Colorado River connecting Highway 82 to Interstate 70, project officials point out.
And it’s a question that continues to come up as state and federal highway officials take formal public comments on a preferred bridge replacement plan that, for now, keeps highway traffic on Grand Avenue.
“Much has been written and discussed regarding a future bypass or relocation of Highway 82 in Glenwood Springs,” Colorado Department of Transportation project officials noted in a news release sent out last week calling attention to a formal public hearing on the bridge plans coming up Wednesday.
The hearing takes place from 5-8 p.m. Wednesday at Glenwood Springs Elementary School, 915 School St., and will include a formal presentation of the project plans at 6:30 p.m. A 30-day formal comment period on the proposal remains open through Dec. 1.
“The planning process and discussions with interested stakeholders confirmed that the bridge and the bypass can be pursued independent of one another, and that the proposed Grand Avenue bridge does not preclude potential future bypass options,” the CDOT release states.
The lengthy EA document itself goes on to say that, while the bridge project addresses “safety and operational problems” with the existing 61-year-old bridge, the bypass question gets into much bigger issues around traffic congestion and improving long-term mobility.
“A bypass would not address the bridge’s functional and structural deficiencies or improve public safety,” according to the section of the EA that describes and justifies the “purpose and need” for the proposed bridge replacement.
“Relocating Highway 82 would cost five to 10 times as much as the available funding for the Grand Avenue Bridge project,” the EA says in relation to the $99 million Colorado Bridge Enterprise program budget for the bridge replacement.
That’s not to say a bypass shouldn’t be studied independently.
Joe Elsen, CDOT’s Grand Avenue Bridge project lead, notes that both the Glenwood Springs Comprehensive Plan and CDOT’s own Corridor Optimization Plan address the need not only to replace the existing bridge, but to spread some of the traffic around that’s now funneled onto Grand Avenue.
In discussions dating back to the 1970s, it was suggested that a bypass or highway relocation could come straight across the river from the main I-70 interchange and potentially follow the old railroad corridor above the Roaring Fork River to the south part of Glenwood Springs.
That or any other potential alignment would need to be screened through an even more extensive EA or full-blown Environmental Impact Statement, Elsen said.
The proposed design for the new bridge, which follows a new alignment from Grand Avenue south of the river to a reconfigured intersection near Sixth and Laurel, could ultimately work better to accommodate a future bypass, he said.
“It would depend on the ability to have the (I-70) interchange reconfigured,” Elsen said, referring to the 1979 “Centennial” study that envisioned a straight shot from Exit 116 south across the river to the vicinity of the old railroad corridor.
In order to gain the necessary 24.5 feet in height to construct a bridge not only over the river but also over the main line of the Union Pacific Railroad, the interchange would need to be flipped so that traffic coming off of I-70 would go up a ramp to an overpass rather than under the interstate.
“The way it is now with the underpass, it would be too steep,” Elsen said.
While the proposed new bridge alignment leaves the I-70 underpass in place, it provide the necessary height to consider a future overpass and second bridge, he said.
“We want people to know we are thinking about these things, and are not foreclosing on some of these ideas that have been brought up before,” Elsen said.
The Wednesday public hearing will provide an opportunity for people to provide oral or written comments on the bridge replacement plan.
After the 30-day comment period ends, the study team will compile and evaluate the comments received before issuing a final decision on the bridge project after the first of the year.
In the meantime, work will continue on the highway and pedestrian bridge design. A final design is expected to be completed in early 2015, and project construction would begin late next year.
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