Council bypasses potential bypass study funding, for now
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A new process for distributing Colorado Department of Transportation project funds could potentially be used to study a Highway 82 bypass and other ways to ease traffic congestion in Glenwood Springs.
But, such a study may have to wait until two other local transportation-related federal environmental review processes run their course, those being the proposed South Bridge connection and Grand Avenue Bridge replacement projects.
“There is some concern from the Federal Highway Administration that these planning processes are starting to conflict,” city engineer Terri Partch said during a recent city council meeting.
“From their standpoint, they would prefer that we stagger these projects,” she said.
CDOT recently announced that it will be allocating the first $300 million of its five-year, $1.5 billion Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships (RAMP) program funds to various transportation projects around the state.
Under the new funding policy, announced last December by CDOT officials, $175 million per year will go toward maintenance and safety improvements involving state highways, bridges and tunnels.
The remaining $125 million in annual CDOT funding over the next five years will be dedicated to partnering with local governments and private entities on various improvements on, or integrated with, the state highway system.
Local governments are being asked to prioritize projects in their area to be considered for the first round of CDOT funding. Any projects that are funded must also come with a 20 percent local match, Partch explained at the April 18 Glenwood Springs City Council meeting.
Council, at its April 18 meeting, agreed with staff’s recommendation to prioritize four projects for CDOT to consider for the initial round of funding, including:
• Initial work on the estimated $33.8 million Midland Avenue roundabout, related property acquisition, Airport Road extension and South Bridge construction.
• A grade-separated pedestrian/bicycle crossing on the Rio Grande Trail at 27th Street and Highway 82/South Glen Avenue, estimated at $5 million.
• Pedestrian, drainage and paving improvements along State Highway 6 & 24 near Devereux Road, estimated at $3 million.
• An improved 12th Street pedestrian underpass at Grand Avenue, estimated at $1.5 million.
Those projects were placed ahead of a so-called Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) study that was suggested by CDOT officials.
Such a study, estimated at anywhere between $1 million and $4 million, would look at different strategies “to relieve congestion along the Highway 82 corridor, including the idea of a truck bypass or complete highway relocation,” Partch indicated in a memo to council and city staff.
“The PEL could potentially be used to shorten the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, if all actions are closely coordinated with the Federal Highway Administration,” she said. “A PEL would allow the City to develop a purpose and need statement, do public process and screen alternatives.”
While the study would be consistent with both the city’s and CDOT’s long-range transportation plans, there are some near-term challenges for the study to be eligible under the new funding program, Partch said.
For one, it’s unlikely that any improvements recommended in the study could be completed within the required five-year time frame, she said.
“The area of influence for an environmental study would at least include all of Glenwood Springs,” Partch added. “Given the city’s history and level of involvement and interest of the citizens, the public process necessary to develop a purpose and need statement and to screen alternatives would likely be very lengthy.”
Another consideration is whether a new NEPA study should start before the two current NEPA reviews related to South Bridge and the Grand Avenue Bridge are complete.
Council acknowledged that the PEL study may move to the top of the list in subsequent years. But, until the two bridge studies are complete, construction-ready projects stand a better chance of being funded, council agreed.
“If there’s any chance of it conflicting with what we already have started, take it off the list,” Councilman Todd Leahy said.
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