Garfield County pledges nearly $4M for South Bridge project
Post Independent Contributor
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — The proposed South Bridge project that would connect Airport Road south of Glenwood Springs to State Highway 82 got a shot of momentum on Monday when the Garfield Board of County Commissioners voted 2-1 to contribute $3.9 million to the project over four years.
That pledge would cover about 10 percent of the project’s estimated cost of $39 million, and the City of Glenwood Springs, which is spearheading the project, would pay for another 10 percent.
The city is hoping that the rest comes in the form of a $30 million grant from a state transportation program called Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships (RAMP).
Whether the project wins a state grant should be known by the end of September, said Glenwood Springs City Engineer Terry Partch.
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Despite a long road ahead for the project, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky was celebrating on Monday.
Jankovsky is the General Manager of Sunlight Mountain resort at the end of Four Mile Road, and the South Bridge project would give residents of that road and the surrounding area a second evacuation route in the event of a wildfire, rock slide, or other natural disaster.
The Four Mile Road area is now only accessible from Grand Avenue via 27th Street and Midland Avenue.
“I don’t know how many years we’ve been trying to do this,” said Jankovsky before the vote. “This is still a long shot, but if this does get approved, we should celebrate.”
If built, the South Bridge would provide up-valley commuters living in South Glenwood Springs with a more direct route to State Highway 82 than the current route on 27th Street.
Glenwood Springs Mayor Leo McKinney said it could also relieve traffic congestion that arises during pickup and drop-off hours at Sopris Elementary School during the academic year.
“There’s a lot of out of direction travel in that area,” he said, referring to traffic from Carbondale and elsewhere up Valley. “I’ve seen the traffic backed up from the school all the way to the roundabout at Midland Avenue.”
Another way in and out
The idea for a South Bridge first arose in the wake of the 2002 Coal Seam Fire in Glenwood Springs, when city residents realized the need for multiple means of egress from every part of town.
Through the efforts of then 3rd District Congressman Scott McInnis, the project received a $4.5 million federal earmark for planning and eventual construction. Most of that money was used to prepare a required environmental assessment.
The commissioners’ approval on Tuesday came thanks to an evolution in commissioner Mike Samson’s views on the project. In a meeting last week, Samson said he was hesitant to support the South Bridge with so many projects in other parts of the county also vying for state funding.
There are eight additional projects competing for more than $18 million in RAMP funds this year, according to a document prepared by Partch, and some of those may be seeking additional county funds.
“I just want you to know … that we have a lot of needs and a lot of wants throughout the county, and I think that in doing this we will have to put some of the plans that we had in other departments on the back burner,” said Samson, addressing Partch, McKinney and Glenwood Springs City Manager Jeff Hecksel.
Still, Samson pledged to support the project so long as city officials guaranteed they wouldn’t ask for additional funding for the bridge down the road.
Complicating the glut of transportation related funding requests facing the county this year is a projected decline of roughly $15 million in county property tax revenues in 2014.
The $3.9 million that the county has earmarked for the South Bridge project would come out of the county’s $10 million capital reserve fund. Overall, the county is heading into 2014 with a fund balance of around $100 million, according to county Finance Director Ann Driggers.
“I’m generally a fiscal conservative, and advocate that what goes in comes out, but in this case I would advocate that we pull this from our reserves,” said Jankovsky.
Commissioner John Martin, who cast the lone dissenting vote, disagreed with Jankovsky and argued that pulling $4 million from reserves would be leading the county down “a dangerous road.”
“The project itself is a great idea, but the overall cost of the project is out of sight,” Martin said, noting that there was also no guarantee that the $30 million in state grant funds would come through.
As currently envisioned, the project would include a roundabout at the intersection of Midland, Four Mile Road and Airport Road, and a major upgrade of Airport Road.
A preferred route calls for extending the road beneath the south end of the city airport runway to a new bridge and connection to Highway 82 just south of the Holy Cross Energy headquarters.
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