Citizens group challenges Grand Ave. Bridge EA
Plans to replace the Grand Avenue bridge on state Highway 82 in Glenwood Springs have gone beyond the scope of the recently released environmental review for the project and should require a full environmental impact statement, says a local citizens group that opposes the project.
An Environmental Assessment “might have been adequate if the project involved merely replacement of the existing bridge in its present location as originally conceived, but that is no longer the case,” Citizens to Save Grand Avenue argues as part of the group’s formal comments submitted to state and federal officials during the comment period that closed Dec. 31.
Altogether, the Colorado Department of Transportation received about 175 comments since the Grand Avenue bridge EA was completed in late October, according to Joe Elsen, CDOT program engineer and the lead official on the bridge project.
Those comments came in the form of written letters, emails, comment forms and orally, including those taken at a public hearing Nov. 19 that was attended by more than 150 people.
The original 30-day comment period was extended for an extra month until Dec. 31. In addition to comments from individuals and groups, formal comments were submitted by public entities including Garfield and Eagle counties and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The city of Glenwood Springs, in its formal comment on the EA, also outlined several of its concerns regarding what City Council members considered a lack of design detail included in the document.
“We appreciate the wide range of interests in the project and input from the public and agency stakeholders helps us to improve the project by understanding what questions, concerns and thoughts people have,” Elsen said regarding the comments received.
Most of those comments, along with CDOT’s responses, will not be made public until a formal decision on the project is released. That is anticipated in late April or early May, Elsen said.
Citizens to Save Grand Avenue agreed to share its comments with the Post Independent.
The group points to CDOT’s own admission during the planning process early last year that the project had evolved over the past three years to include not only a realigned bridge but a range of related projects.
Those include improvements to the Interstate 70 interchange at Exit 116, a roundabout at Sixth and Laurel streets, and a temporary Eighth Street connection in the downtown area to serve as a detour route that could result in a permanent new street connection, said John Haines, a retired Glenwood Springs businessman who chairs the group.
“Our reading of [the National Environmental Policy Act] is, if a project is adjoining a federal highway, that an EIS needs to be done, especially if there is more than one project,” Haines told the Post Independent.
The group’s formal comments are made in a one-page letter to Cliff Rader, NEPA compliance director for the EPA Office of Federal Activities in Washington, D.C., and copied to bridge project officials.
The expanded scope of the project “raises some serious concerns regarding the impact of the currently proposed construction on the planning for a future additional route through Glenwood Springs needed to accommodate the volume of highway traffic, which will grow to exceed the carrying capacity of Grand Avenue,” the group states in its letter.
Opponents have argued that the bridge project should be halted in favor of planning a bypass or some other type of alternative route to carry Highway 82 traffic through or around Glenwood Springs.
Such a route was envisioned in CDOT’s 2011 Highway 82 Corridor Optimization Plan, which identified the need for an additional route sometime within the next 15-25 years, Haines’ group points out.
“Yet, there is no mention of that plan in the EA, nor is there any consideration of what effect the bridge replacement as presently proposed could have on the design of the future route,” the letter states.
For that and other reasons, the EA should be rejected and replaced with a more-detailed EIS, the group asserts.
Haines said several individual members of the citizens group also wrote letters focusing on other concerns, ranging from the potential for increased speeds on Grand Avenue related to the proposed bridge design to impacts on businesses.
“There isn’t anybody in our group that doesn’t want to see a new bridge someday. We just want to make sure that bridge is in the right place,” Haines said.
In his own comments regarding the EA, he points to an informal mail-in poll taken by the group two years ago showing support halting the current bridge planning in favor of a long-range plan to take highway through traffic off of Grand Avenue.
Meanwhile, Elsen said the project team will work over the next few months to identify and address all comments received during the formal public review period and incorporate them as part of the formal “Decision Document” that will complete the EA process.
“This takes time as we now need to go through and determine which comments represent new information that could cause changes to the explanation of the project and its related impacts,” he said. “It is a fairly lengthy and deliberative process that helps to inform the overall decision-making process.”
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