City tentatively agrees to $3M for bridge project
Glenwood Springs and Garfield County elected officials reacted Tuesday with a collective cringe at the latest cost estimates from state transportation officials to pay for a greatly expanded Grand Avenue Bridge Project, which now could exceed the state’s $99 million budget by anywhere from $10 million to $15 million.
But, recognizing that much of the extra cost is associated with the many design and aesthetic elements of the bridge design that came through input from the Glenwood Springs community, for its part City Council agreed during a special meeting with Colorado Department of Transportation representatives to contribute up to $3 million over three years toward the project.
Those design elements — including a realigned bridge that eliminates the Sixth Street segment of the Highway 82 connection to Interstate 70, extensive landscaping, and aesthetic features intended to make the new highway and pedestrian bridges fit in with the character of downtown Glenwood Springs — are “non-negotiable,” Council members said.
Short of finding extra funding to pay for those things, project officials would have to remove some of those elements or possibly put the project on hold, CDOT Program Engineer Joe Elsen said.
“I am willing to look for some money that the city can bring to the table, but we need some assurances,” City Councilman Stephen Bershenyi said during the joint meeting with the Garfield commissioners to hear CDOT’s appeal for local funding to help make up the anticipated funding gap.
Bershenyi issued a strong statement to CDOT, which is funding most of the project through its Colorado Bridge Enterprise program, not to cut corners at the expense of the city’s design input over the last three years.
“They need to understand that they cannot come in here and build a plain concrete viaduct,” he said. “There is a steel backbone here that will not bow to anything less than what has been presented to us.”
Councilman Todd Leahy agreed.
“That bridge needs to fit the character of the area where it’s going to sit, or we don’t need it,” Leahy said. “This is a big investment, but I believe it’s a good investment.”
And, “There will a lot of other money chasing this project,” he said, adding he views it as a long-term investment in the city’s future economic development.
Council voted 6-1 to contribute “up to $3 million” over three years, starting in 2015. That decision is contingent on a review of the city’s budget to determine where the money will come from, and a negotiated agreement with CDOT to spell out what the city’s money would be used for and to pin down construction scheduling.
Council member Dave Sturges opposed the action, saying he couldn’t support city funding “until I’m convinced it’s the best project for this community, and for the whole valley.”
Elsen and CDOT Region 3 Director Dave Eller, who also attended the meeting Tuesday, said regional funding support is crucial as bridge project officials go before the Bridge Enterprise board on Sept. 17 to determine how to proceed based on the engineers’ 60 percent design cost estimates.
They were also before Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday afternoon asking for up to $500,000 from that county, since the Grand Avenue bridge and Highway 82 serves as the gateway to the Roaring Fork Valley. Pitkin commissioners said they are willing to give some level of financial support, but did not agree on a dollar amount.
Bridge officials will also meet with Aspen City Council next week seeking $300,000, and have requested another $300,000 from Eagle County. Earlier this summer, the Intermountain Transportation Planning Region committee, made up of elected officials from a five-county area, gave top priority to the bridge project for another $3.3 million in state discretionary funding.
Garfield County commissioners did not make a decision at the Tuesday meeting on the $3 million funding request that’s before them, and for the most part reserved comment until their regularly scheduled Sept. 15 meeting when they are expected to decide.
The commissioners did share their concerns about the escalating bridge project costs during a joint meeting with the Eagle County commissioners Tuesday afternoon in Glenwood Springs.
“This bridge is important for the entire Roaring Fork Valley … but I am concerned about this continual rise in the cost,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said during that meeting.
If the county is to contribute, “I think our message may need to be, let’s find 15 percent to cut out of this,” he suggested. “Somebody needs to hold CDOT accountable.”
Some Glenwood Council members also questioned the disparate amount of funding being asked from Pitkin County and Aspen, compared to the downvalley governments.
“The major beneficiaries of this transportation corridor are up valley,” Councilman Ted Edmonds said. “It does seem to be inequitable. Just because the bridge is in our town, I’m not sure that means we should bear a greater cost burden.”
Councilman Bershenyi also suggested CDOT consider asking for private funding from tourist entities such as the Aspen Skiing Co. to help make up the shortfall.
Elsen also clarified that part of the additional cost estimates are related to contingencies that are built into the planning process, and may not be realized. If the project ends up coming in less than the estimated cost, some of the funding contribution from the local entities could be returned, he said.
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Over 75,000 hikers visited Hanging Lake during this year’s peak season. Via signage, the city hopes to point more of those hikers also in the direction of downtown Glenwood Springs.