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CDOT: Bridge comments mostly supportive

Joe Elsen
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Roughly two-thirds of the comments received from individuals and agencies regarding the Grand Avenue Bridge Environmental Assessment were supportive of plans to replace the bridge, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s lead official on the project.

“We are glad to report that, as we have been going through the comment letters, about two-thirds of the comments we have received have been supportive of the project,” Joe Elsen, CDOT program engineer, informed Garfield County commissioners on Tuesday.

CDOT received about 175 comments as of the Dec. 31, 2014, comment period deadline, which was extended by 30 days after the bridge EA was released in late October.

Those comments came in the form of e-mails, handwritten letters, comment forms and orally during a formal publichearing that took place Nov. 19.

Elsen said in a follow-up interview Wednesday that it has taken the bridge project team until just recently to read through the comments, in many cases multiple times each, and begin to prepare responses.

Project officials are “continuing to refine” those responses, which will be included in the final “Decision Document” that’s due out in May and will determine if the estimated $110 million to $115 million bridge replacement project will proceed.

“We have found in going through the comments that people are generally supportive, although many do have concerns about different aspects,” Elsen said.

Those concerns range from making sure impacts on businesses during the planned two-year bridge construction are addressed, as well as impacts related to traffic flow during the anticipated 90-day detour that’s slated for spring 2017, he said.

Glenwood Springs City Council, in its formal comments on the EA, was supportive of the project. However, council expressed its frustration with the lack of detail included in the document related to some aesthetic features that had been discussed during the three-year planning process.

Within the 175 comments were some 800 or so different points that will each need to be addressed, Elsen said.

That includes responding to comments that came in against the proposed bridge replacement plan, he said.

“We do have people who want to chuck it altogether and have it become something else that’s outside the scope of this particular project, with more of a focus on mobility,” Elsen said of calls to scrap the bridge replacement and plan instead for a bypass that would take State Highway 82 traffic off of Grand Avenue.

CDOT officials have said that would be a completely different project and, though not out of the question for future consideration, would not be able to take advantage of the $99 million in Colorado Bridge Enterprise money set aside for the bridge project.

Citizens to Save Grand Avenue, which opposes the bridge replacement as currently planned, argued in its formal comments that the project has exceeded the scope of the just-completed environmental review, and should require a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act.

MAJOR PR EFFORT PLANNED

Meanwhile, CDOT is gearing up to have an extensive communications plan in place leading up to and during the bridge construction, Elsen and Tracy Trulove, CDOT’s Region 3 communications manager, said during the Tuesday presentation to the commissioners.

The Grand Avenue Bridge Project is considered a “Tier 2” project, on the scale of some of the more high-profile highway projects on the Front Range.

The communications effort around the bridge construction will be even more extensive than that done with the Grand Avenue Paving Project, which was completed in 2005 and 2010, Elsen said.

That project, which involved the concrete paving of Grand Avenue from the bridge south to 27th Street, ultimately cost around $6.5 million. Each phase had an extensive public information budget, ranging from $25,000 to $60,000, to keep the public informed about traffic delays, detours and other project details, according to CDOT consultant Tom Newland, who headed up communications for the second phase of that project.

CDOT plans to contract with a public relations firm to develop a communications plan for the Grand Avenue Bridge Project, Trulove said.

“We anticipate having public meetings whenever we have major construction phase changes,” she said. “Our goal is to make sure the public has all the information that’s available so that people are aware of what is happening.”

The communications plan will also include print and broadcast advertising, fliers, a regularly updated project website, a dedicated hotline to track questions and complaints, and regular lane closure and traffic delay advisories.

Trulove said several people have inquired about being part of a public relations task force, which is also being considered.

Regular face-to-face contact with business owners and others affected by the construction, as well as use of other public relations avenues such as Garfield County’s and the city of Glenwood Springs websites, will also be important, she said.


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