City criticizes lack of detail in bridge EA
The official study document that outlines plans for replacing the Grand Avenue Bridge fails to fully reflect discussions with Glenwood Springs leaders and residents dealing with the bridge design, costs and other impacts, according to formal comments submitted to project planners by the City Council this week.
In a letter Thursday to CDOT Region 3 Program Engineer Joe Elsen, the council said it continues to support plans to replace the 61-year-old bridge with a new, realigned structure connecting Highway 82 to Interstate 70 at Sixth and Laurel streets.
However, “the City Council does not support the Grand Avenue Bridge Project that is defined with the EA document,” the city’s letter states.
“The council believes the project defined within the EA does not reflect the apparent intentions or the City Council’s expectations,” the letter continues. “It does not accurately reflect the impact on the visual or historic character of the downtown, it does not reflect the state’s commitments to the community, and it does not reflect the needs of [CDOT] from the city or the region to construct this project.”
Council met in a special session Dec. 15 to finalize its formal response to the Colorado Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration’s Grand Avenue Bridge Environmental Assessment (EA) released in late October.
An extended public comment period on the proposed $110 million-plus bridge replacement plans continues through Dec. 31.
Elsen told the Post Independent on Thursday that it’s important to note that a lot of the final design work is to be completed after a formal record of decision to proceed with the project. That’s expected sometime later this winter or early spring.
Having not yet been in formal receipt of the city’s letter, however, Elsen declined to comment on the city’s concerns, other than to say, “CDOT is committed to working with the city to address any concerns that are contained in their letter.”
Mayor Leo McKinney said it’s important that as much detail is included in the EA as possible to memorialize what has been discussed through the city’s efforts to work with CDOT in designing the new bridge and planning for construction impacts.
In particular, he said the document lacks detail when it comes to the many years of discussions around the various aesthetic treatments that are to be used to minimize the visual impact of the bridge, and who’s to pay for what when it comes to some of the design elements on and around the planned new highway and pedestrian bridges.
“Council and city staff are both still in the same place when it comes to the overall idea of the bridge replacement, which we support,” McKinney said. “But we don’t feel like the EA documents necessarily reflect the reality of the conversations we’ve been having and the intentions of what has been represented in the meetings between CDOT and the city.”
Councilman Todd Leahy has been perhaps the most vocal council member in terms of making sure the new bridge ultimately fits the historic character of downtown Glenwood Springs.
“Council has been pretty clear that, if we’re not going to get the bridge that has been discussed over these last three and a half years, we’d just as soon not build a bridge,” Leahy said. “The aesthetic treatments are very important to this project, and if they’re not in [the EA], I don’t think we want to give the flexibility to build whatever the budget might allow at the end of the day.”
Council also is worried that the project costs reflected in the EA are different from those discussed in recent meetings when CDOT officials approached the city, Garfield County, regional transportation planners and other area governments to help make up a funding shortfall to complete the bridge.
The city and county agreed to come up with $3 million each, while CDOT’s regional transportation planning committee is requesting another $3.3 million in state money to help cover what has been represented by project officials as a $110 million to $115 million price tag to pay for all the associated bridge costs, including the environmental review process, planning, design, property acquisition and actual construction.
However, the EA gives the “opinion of probable cost” as $85.3 million, including $60 million for construction and $25.3 million for other expenses, not including “indirect costs” and various other administrative costs.
The Colorado Bridge Enterprise program has allocated up to $99 million for the Glenwood Springs bridge project.
“Council questions why the EA document does not reflect what the CDOT is responsible for and the budget to fulfill these responsibilities,” the city’s letter goes on to say.
One is the removal of the public restroom under the existing bridge, for which no replacement plans are contemplated.
“Council believes these items should be mentioned in the document so the public better understands the project,” the letter continues. “If outside funding is needed to complete the project, including the mitigation, the document should reflect these partnerships.”
Also missing from the document is any mention of needing to work with the city to obtain consent for the planned 90-day Highway 82 detour route using Midland Avenue, Eighth Street and Colorado Avenue.
The detour is expected to be needed during the second full year of construction, in spring of 2017, when the existing bridge is to be removed to make way for the final segment of the new bridge.
The EA also suggests use of the existing bridge right of way next to the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool for new parking, “which effectively privatizes the area,” according to the city’s letter. Any new use of that area would also require the city’s consent, the letter states.
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