Grand Ave. bridge planners get earful at hearing
A formal public hearing Wednesday regarding plans for a new Grand Avenue Bridge drew repeated calls for a broader Highway 82 bypass study and more time to comment on the current bridge replacement plan before any decisions are made.
“This is a burden that should not be borne solely by the citizens of Glenwood Springs,” said Royal Laybourn, a Carbondale-area resident who was one of the 150 or so people in attendance at the Colorado Department of Transportation’s formal public hearing to consider the Grand Avenue Bridge study and proposed bridge replacement plan.
“It’s a sham to put together an Environmental Assessment that doesn’t address the problem,” he said of the plan to replace the existing bridge with a realigned one running from Grand Avenue on the south side of the Colorado River and curving west to a reconfigured intersection at Sixth and Laurel and more direct link to Interstate 70.
That larger “problem,” Laybourn and others who spoke at the hearing said, is to find a workable bypass solution to ease Highway 82 traffic passing through the middle of Glenwood Springs headed to and from Aspen and points between.
“I don’t see this project solving any of these other problems,” said Glenwood Springs resident Ed Rosenberg, who also called for a more comprehensive study to address what he called a “regional traffic problem.”
“Any amount of time spent on a bad plan does not determine that it’s a plan we need to proceed with,” he said of the three-year-long effort by project planners and local officials, residents and business leaders to come up with a bridge replacement plan.
Others who attended the Wednesday meeting supported the plan for a new bridge.
Suzanne Stewart grew up in Glenwood Springs and remembers when Grand Avenue expanded from two lanes to four to accommodate the increase in traffic more than three decades ago, and the resulting loss of the large trees that used to line parts of the town’s main street.
That was a “big deal,” said Stewart, who ended up working as part of CDOT’s Project Leadership team and the city’s “Issues Task Force” to help plan the new bridge.
“I happen to be in favor of this plan,” she said. “There will be a lot of pain and frustration … but when it’s over, I think we will have an even cooler town than we have right now.
“It’s a hell of a good project, and I say we take the tough pill and go for it,” Stewart said.
CDOT and the Federal Highway Administration formally released the Grand Avenue Bridge assessment on Nov. 1, and are taking comments before issuing a record of decision on how to proceed with the estimated $110 million to $115 million bridge project sometime after the first of the year.
Glenwood Springs City Council has asked for an additional 30 days beyond the current EA comment deadline of Dec. 1 for people to weigh in on the bridge replacement plans.
“Our city staff is running very, very thin, and we as a city also need that extra time to ferret out what all is in this document and make sure we end up with what’s best for Glenwood Springs,” said the city’s mayor, Leo McKinney.
Joe Elsen, CDOT’s Grand Avenue Bridge project lead, said project officials are taking the request for an extension under consideration but have not made a decision.
Meanwhile, members of the Citizens to Save Grand Avenue group who attended the Wednesday hearing also suggested the plan now being contemplated could be legally challenged for being “more than a simple bridge replacement,” which representatives said were CDOT’s own words.
Hal Sundin of Glenwood Springs, who has been active with that group, reiterated his belief that the bridge is just “one segment” of the much bigger bypass question.
“There are many glaring reasons why this Environmental Assessment should be rejected as seriously deficient,” Sundin said, calling for a more extensive and far-reaching Environmental Impact Statement looking at the bigger issue of a bypass.
But CDOT officials have said a new bridge is needed because the existing 61-year-old bridge is both functionally and structurally deficient.
Funding has been designated through the Colorado Bridge Enterprise fund to cover most of the cost to replace the bridge, although the expanded scope of the project has resulted in an estimated $10 million to $15 million more. CDOT has been seeking local money to make up that difference, including a $3 million commitment each from the city of Glenwood Springs and Garfield County.
Project officials have also said that replacing the bridge would not preclude a broader evaluation of regional transportation needs, including a possible bypass or rerouting of Highway 82 in the future.
The Grand Avenue Bridge study and proposed replacement plan can be viewed and commented on online, at http://www.coloradodot.info/projects/sh82grandavenuebridge. Extra copies of the document have also been provided to the Glenwood Springs Library for public viewing.
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