Eighth Street link back in city’s crosshairs
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — The potential to obtain some remaining federal stimulus money, and a possible shift in thinking by the Union Pacific Railroad about the “wye” section of the local rail line, could help the city of Glenwood Springs accomplish one of its long-desired infrastructure goals.
At a special Monday night meeting, City Council voted 6-0 to have city staff and the Downtown Development Authority put together a grant proposal that would use federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) funding to build the Eighth Street connection west to the river confluence area.
Even if the grant is not successful, council is inclined to move the Eighth Street connection project in line for city funding, in an effort to stay in front of construction on the proposed new Grand Avenue Bridge.
“It would be nice if we could get that connection done before the bridge construction begins,” Councilman Todd Leahy said.
The Eighth Street connection could provide an important traffic relief valve and potential detour route during the proposed period when the bridge is closed for construction. Tentatively, that would happen sometime in 2015 or 2016.
“But we need to get started on this now,” Leahy said.
The latest grant opportunity was suggested by transportation planning consultant Jim Charlier, who is working with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) on updating the city’s confluence master plan, as well as downtown streetscape designs related to the bridge project.
The U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced that the fifth round of TIGER funding is available. The fund is part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Obama’s landmark economic stimulus package.
The TIGER program is extremely competitive, Charlier said the Monday meeting, with only about 4 percent of project applications funded to date.
An application will need to be prepared by the June 3 deadline. More daunting is the work required prior to a mandatory June 30, 2014, start date, including doing a cost/benefit analysis, lining up funding partners, engineering the project, acquiring rights of way and other details, Charlier said.
On the plus side, rural projects, especially smaller projects in the range of $1 million to $10 million, are typically viewed more favorably, he said.
Perhaps the biggest development in moving the Eighth Street project to the top of the city’s priority was a recent representation by a Union Pacific Railroad official, who indicated the railroad may be willing to relinquish its rights to the so-called “wye” section of the local rail line, Charlier said.
The wye, a triangular spur off the main UP rail line that served as a connection to the former Rio Grande rail line up the Roaring Fork Valley, has been the biggest obstacle for the city to pursue the Eighth Street connection.
That section of track is now owned by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) as part of its Rio Grande trail corridor. However, the UP retains its right to use the tracks which still exist on the wye.
Although talks are in the earliest stages, Charlier and other members of the DDA’s consulting team have been meeting with UP officials about giving up the wye in exchange for the city building safety fencing along the main line in the downtown area.
“There is a serious concern about having someone get hit on the tracks (along Seventh Street),” Charlier said. “We would want to include the cost of fencing in the grant application. What I envision is a wrought-iron type of fence that would be in fitting with the downtown.”
If an agreement can be reached with the UP, the city would then need to negotiate with RFTA about providing for a future grade-separated crossing over the new street, he said.
RFTA would need to allow its rail-banking expert review the street plans, said RFTA General Manager and CEO Dan Blankenship, who was also at the Monday meeting.
The Rio Grande corridor is legally rail-banked, which preserves the right to run a commuter rail line up the Roaring Fork Valley in the future. Any crossing of the corridor, whether at grade and separated by a bridge, requires special permitting from RFTA.
Council members and city staff did express concerns about the usual strings attached with federal grants, which can add extra costs not associated with actual construction.
“If the city can find the money to build this, that’s certainly easier than competing for a federal grant,” Charlier said.
City Manager Jeff Hecksel said a local funding package is more likely if the project cost comes in at less than $4 million. Any more than that amount would be harder to achieve without some outside grant money, he said.
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