City, Garfield County open South Bridge talks
Glenwood Springs will be looking to Garfield County to pay for at least part of the estimated $45 million South Bridge project, as well as for some support in coming up with ways to fund another $20 million in south Glenwood-area road and bridge improvements over the next several years.
Armed with data that shows a majority of residents passing through the Midland Avenue corridor toward Colorado 82 and downtown Glenwood actually live in unincorporated areas, mostly along the Four Mile corridor, City Council lobbied for assistance at a joint meeting Thursday evening with the county commissioners.
According to information compiled by city officials, of the 1,495 single-family residential units situated along the route from 27th Street to the top of the Four Mile where Sunlight Mountain Resort is located, 793 are in unincorporated parts of the county while 702 are within city limits.
Population-wise, approximately 1,600 people reside within city limits along that stretch, compared to more than 1,800 who live outside the city, City Engineer Terri Partch said.
In addition, 213 approved but unbuilt residential lots lie outside the city, as opposed to 75 within city limits, she said.
The resulting traffic from all those people combined, plus traffic headed to and from Sunlight and U.S. Forest lands in the Four Mile Park area, is the main reason the city is pushing forward with a plan to fund the long-talked-about South Bridge project.
The new route would provide a southerly link from the vicinity of municipal airport across the Roaring Fork River to Colorado 82 near Holy Cross Energy headquarters. If built, it would ease some of the traffic now making its way along Midland Avenue and across the 27th Street bridge.
Both Midland and the 27th Street bridge are also due for major improvements.
“South Bridge is the best solution for getting transportation in and out of the Four Mile corridor and the south Glenwood area,” Mayor Mike Gamba said during the joint session with the commissioners.
Even with South Bridge, the city is still looking a $12 million in upgrades to the section of Midland Avenue from 27th Street to the Four Mile Road intersection, and an $8 million replacement of the 27th Street bridge that is already in the works.
Without the southern outlet, the city would probably be looking at more like $35 million in upgrades to Midland and the 27th Street bridge to accommodate future traffic needs.
In either scenario, “we obviously can’t fund all of these improvements by ourself,” Gamba said. “We’re going to have to work cooperatively to come up with some solutions.”
City Council on Thursday also formalized a six-month moratorium on new development applications along Midland Avenue in an effort to buy some time to come up with a funding strategy for the infrastructure needs.
South Bridge has been the subject of a several-years-long environmental assessment (EA) to determine if it’s feasible and to do preliminary engineering for a route.
Partch said the EA is just waiting for a possible rerouting of County Road 154 to the new grade-separated highway interchange that is being planned. That would eliminate the traffic light at the Buffalo Valley turnoff.
Once the EA is complete, the city would begin working toward 60 percent engineering and design, she said.
Funding to build the route, estimated at between $40 million and $45 million, has not been identified. State and federal grant funding beyond whatever the city and county can come up with is possible, but hinges on the project being “shovel ready.”
To date, the Colorado Department of Transportation has said it cannot fund a project that is considered “off-system.”
The possible exception would be the new highway interchange, which has a price tag by itself of about $5 million, Partch said.
“The solution is going to be in this room as far as how we take care of these projects,” county Commissioner John Martin said. That will likely mean taking on debt to do it, he said.
One option that is being discussed would involve the creation of a special improvements taxing district that would have to be approved by voters within the defined boundaries.
It would likely use a property mill levy to pay for a bond issue or some other financing over a period of time.
A portion of the city’s newly reauthorized acquisitions and improvements sales tax could also go toward the South Bridge and other south Glenwood projects, Gamba said.
City Councilor Leo McKinney, who represents the south Glenwood area on council, said he has not talked to anyone in his neighborhood who opposes South Bridge.
“It’s not just something that benefits south Glenwood and the Four Mile corridor, it impacts everyone who is coming through Glenwood,” McKinney said of the residual effect of easing traffic congestion all around.
County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said the county could be good for at least 10 percent and possibly up to 20 percent of the money.
“But we’re going to need some outside help to make this happen,” he said. “I personally want to see this project move forward.”
Gamba said the city could pay for the 27th Street bridge project on its own, using some federal funding that’s available for bridges that have a low sufficiency rating.
But the city needs some assurance that the South Bridge route is also going to be built, he said. Otherwise, the 27th Street bridge would need to be at least four lanes, instead of the two lanes now being designed, to meet future traffic demands, Gamba said.
gas impacts loom
The commissioners and council members also briefly discussed the specter of oil and gas industry traffic using the Four Mile and Midland corridor as a haul route to access gas leases in the Wolf Creek storage area south of Four Mile Park.
Jankovsky said the county is still on record that Four Mile is not appropriate for use as a haul route, and the city has also remained adamant that Midland and 27th Street, even with the improvements being planned, would not be able to handle heavy industrial traffic.
SG Interests has formally applied for a test well in the Wolf Creek area, following a recent decision by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to cancel 25 leases in the larger, so-called Thompson Divide region. SG still owns 11 active leases in the Wolf Creek unit, and has said it intends to use Four Mile for hauling equipment to the area if a drilling permit is approved.
Commissioner Martin noted that if equipment trucks can be configured in such a way to meet weight limits and other load restrictions, the city or county likely can do little to keep oil and gas trucks off of public streets and county roads.
“You have to put the facts together, so you have a good foundation for why you’re saying no,” Martin said.
Besides cracking down on weight limits, city and county officials also contend that industry traffic is incompatible with the heavily populated corridor that is also home to the Sunlight ski area, Sopris Elementary School and potential future residential development.