Downtown merchants differ on bridge project , traffic
Tony Rosa’s very livelihood sits at ground zero beneath the busy Highway 82 bridge that state transportation officials want to replace with a wider, more direct link to Interstate 70 that will keep highway traffic rolling through downtown Glenwood Springs for the foreseeable future.
Rosa owns and operates one of Glenwood’s oldest restaurants at 702 Grand Ave., Peppo Nino Italian eatery. He also lives above the restaurant.
Rather than replace the 60-year-old bridge with a new one, he is among a vocal contingent of local residents, including several downtown business owners, who would prefer to see the Colorado Department of Transportation patch up the old bridge and start to seriously plan for a highway bypass around downtown.
“It’s just a lot of money to spend for not solving the problem,” said Rosa, part of the Citizens to Save Grand Avenue group.
Indeed, a project that started as a $60 million bridge fix, at least as one option, has turned into a much more extensive highway bridge realignment and related pedestrian bridge replacement with a price tag approaching $110 million.
The real problem, Rosa said, is ever-increasing traffic along Grand Avenue. In his mind, a new bridge will simply perpetuate that problem.
Margie Krow, owner of Downtown Drug in the 800 block of Grand, agrees.
“We have cars as far as you can see, and it’s time to do something about it,” she said. “People are just trying to get through town, and no one wants to stop. That’s who is for the bridge.
“Those of us who live and work in Glenwood Springs, we want to preserve and protect” the downtown, Krow said.
Some see it differently
The Save Grand group often points to an informal mail survey they initiated last year, which found the overwhelming majority of the 600 or so residents who responded wanted the bridge project stopped in favor of a long-range bypass solution.
But bridge supporters and project leaders who spearheaded an extensive public planning process over the last three years say that survey was not representative, based on input they’ve received from civic and business leaders.
In fact, some of Rosa’s business neighbors in the very same block of Grand who stand to be just as impacted by a new bridge and the continued parade of car and heavy truck traffic through downtown also see things differently.
“I’m not against a bypass, I just don’t think we’ll get it done, at least not in my lifetime,” said Carl Moak, owner of Summit Canyon Mountaineering.
“And the fight over the bridge will look like a pillow fight compared to the fight you would see over where to put a bypass,” Moak said of the age-old debate, pointing out that there’s no money designated for a bypass and no consensus about where to put it.
As a downtown business owner and appointed member of both the Downtown Development Authority and city tourism boards, Moak has embraced the bridge project and its potential to enhance rather than detract from downtown Glenwood Springs.
“Sure, there will be a painful period of time during the bridge construction, and we’re at the epicenter,” he said of Summit’s location at the corner of Eighth and Grand, where the bridge touches down. “But we’ll get through it.”
Mike Mercatoris of ZG Hospitality is a part owner in two other restaurants located in the 700 block of Grand, Riviera Supper Club and Grind. He also sees the benefits of the new bridge and the amenities it will bring, despite the disruptions that a highway running through the middle of downtown can cause.
For one thing, a larger pedestrian plaza underneath the bridge would tie in nicely with the recent improvements along Seventh Street, creating the potential for concerts, art shows and other events, he said.
“In lieu of a bypass, something has to happen with that bridge, and they have been very good about letting people look at the design and make it pedestrian-friendly and something that will fit downtown,” Mercatoris said. “I’m behind it 100 percent.”
As for someday removing Highway 82 traffic from Grand Avenue, that could kill business, Mercatoris said.
“I just paid a ton of money to fix up the biggest neon sign in town,” he said of the iconic Riviera Supper Club sign that greets motorists as they cross the bridge into downtown Glenwood. “Thousands of people see that sign every day.”
Visibility equals business
Erin Zalinski, who along with her husband, Jon, owns the Treadz shoe and accessories store at 812 Grand, agreed that exposure to a busy thoroughfare is critical to a successful retail business.
“It gives us relevance,” she said. “Otherwise, people never see you. Even if they don’t stop, it keeps you in people’s minds.”
Zalinski acknowledged that some of the earlier bridge options that would have split Highway 82 traffic between two one-way streets might have been a way to “share the traffic burden.”
But she’s content to do what she has to as a business owner to incorporate the current bridge plan into her own business plan.
“I think it’s good for the community of Glenwood Springs, and it allows us to reinvent our first impression for people,” Zalinski said.
Krow, who does business right across the street at 825 Grand, said Highway 82 exposure might have benefited business 20 years ago.
“But times have changed,” she said.“My friends who work in Aspen just want to get home, and they don’t stop because of the traffic,” she said.
Businesses farther south on Grand that are outside the downtown core say they are even more heavily reliant on highway traffic.
Removing Highway 82 from the stretch of Grand between 11th and 23rd streets, for instance, could be the death of some businesses, or cause them to want to relocate to wherever the new highway would go, some bypass opponents have suggested.
Among them is Deja Brew coffee shop owner Matt Starbuck.
“We actually get a lot more highway traffic come in than we thought we would when we opened,” Starbuck said. “If they were to alter that, it definitely would affect our business.”
MORE INFORMATION THIS WEEK
The bridge debate is expected to crank up a notch this week, as CDOT officials refine the project costs with 60 percent-complete design and engineering plans for the bridge and determine the extent of the funding gap.
The Colorado Bridge Enterprise program, which is funding the project, has established a $98 million total budget, leaving at least a $10 million gap, based on 30 percent design estimates.
Bridge project officials will also be meeting Tuesday with city of Glenwood Springs and Garfield County elected officials in search of local support to help make up an anticipated gap to build the new bridge and related infrastructure. Officials also are expected to make a presentation to Pitkin County commissioners as part of a pitch for regional contributions to the project.
That’s another sticking point for Rosa.
The notion of asking local governments to pitch in to help pay for a state highway project “is just the wrong idea, I think,” he said.
“They already are charging us more on our vehicle registrations for these things,” Rosa said of the Colorado Bridge Enterprise program. “They need to live within a budget,” he said.
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