Much ado about a bridge, and a pledge never to forget
It would be easy to say that most of what made for news in Glenwood Springs last year revolved around the great Grand Avenue bridge debate. In many ways it did, and likely will continue to do so in the new year.
Along the way in the journey through 2014, the Glenwood Springs community made the most of its opportunities to shine; from keeping its vow to “never forget” the sacrifice made by 14 federal wildland firefighters who lost their lives battling the Storm King Fire 20 years ago with a moving commemorative weekend in early July, to putting together a public-private partnership to spruce up “restaurant row” along Seventh Street with new outdoor dining areas.
On the economic front, the city also saw a welcome resurgence in retail sales during the year, which through October were on track to finish the year close to pre-recession levels. The surge was driven in part by auto sales, building materials and a new addition to the retail market, recreational marijuana, sales of which became legal at the beginning of 2014 across Colorado. By year’s end, Glenwood Springs had three marijuana dispensaries that had entered into recreational retail sales in addition to the medical marijuana business.
In the tourism sector, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park owner Steve Beckley and fellow investors also broke ground in October for the brand new Iron Mountain Hot Springs on the site of the historic Iron Springs property along the Colorado River.
Also notable during the past year was the retirement of longtime City Clerk Robin Unsworth after 29 years on the job; the welcoming of a new state charter Two Rivers Community School, which brought bilingual education to the mix of local K-8 education choices; and the opening of a new doughnut shop, Sweet ColoraDough, the first fresh-made doughnut place to grace Glenwood in several years.
AGE-OLD TRAFFIC CONCERNS
In addition to the third straight year of planning for the replacement of the aging Highway 82 bridge over the Colorado River to its western end point at Interstate 70, a range of other issues came down to what’s arguably the central issue in Glenwood Springs: Traffic congestion.
• GLENWOOD RIDGE REJECTED: A developer’s plans to annex about 500 acres of ranchland up Four Mile Road into the city to build 413 houses over the next 20 years was ultimately withdrawn in August in the face of city planning recommendations against the project and the likelihood of denial by City Council.
The major concern was increased traffic on the already stressed road system leading to the south end of town along 27th Street and South Midland Avenue.
• FEDEX DISPUTE: The city also objected to plans by package shipping giant FedEx to build a new sorting and distribution facility on that same end of town near the airport, but just outside city limits. Despite City Council’s concerns, again mostly related to increased traffic and further deterioration of city streets, Garfield County commissioners approved the project.
Negotiations between the city, county and FedEx are to continue in the new year regarding a fair road impact fee, which may determine if the project goes forward.
• SOUTH BRIDGE: Following the release in late 2013 of an environmental analysis looking at the potential for the new South Bridge connection across the Roaring Fork River to Highway 82 south of Glenwood Springs, the ongoing study crept ever so slowly along. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which controls the Rio Grande Trail that parallels the highway, raised concerns as to how the new route would cross the legally protected former railroad right of way.
That engineering hurdle aside, the much larger question of how to come up with the estimated $40 million to build the bridge and new road connection was nowhere near being answered in any certain terms.
• THOMPSON DIVIDE DRILLING: The city of Glenwood joined neighboring Carbondale and Pitkin County in objecting to the continuation of oil and gas leases on public lands in the Thompson Divide area south of town, which is accessed by Four Mile Road. The leases were set to expire in 2014, but federal land officials allowed them to be extended so that they could be included as part of a larger review of gas leases on the White River National Forest.
A pair of applications for exploratory drilling by one company, SG Interests out of Houston, called for the use of Four Mile Road as the primary haul route, leading to the city’s primary objection, which again goes back to increased heavy truck traffic from Four Mile and along Midland Avenue through town.
THAT CONFOUNDED BRIDGE
Then, of course, there was and is the Colorado Department of Transportation’s now $110 million-plus proposal to replace the Grand Avenue bridge, which, if all goes according to plan, could actually enter the construction phase by late 2015.
Along the way in the bridge planning efforts during 2014, City Council opted to incorporate a pair of elevators for handicapped access as part of a new pedestrian bridge that’s to be included with the larger bridge replacement project.
Council also convinced CDOT to change its planned route for a highway detour during three months of the coming bridge construction. The route from I-70 exit 114 onto Midland Avenue is now to follow a temporary connection to Eighth Street and back onto Grand, rather than using Midland to 27th Street as earlier planned.
That plays into the city’s long-held designs on creating a permanent Eighth Street connection into downtown to help ease traffic congestion in that part of town, though the exact alignment for the city’s purposes is yet to be determined.
By mid-year, mounting project costs prompted CDOT to ask local governments to help make up an anticipated $10 million to $15 million funding shortfall. The city and Garfield County obliged to commit $3 million each to help pay for a project that was suddenly expected to cost upwards of $115 million to complete, well beyond the $99 million budget set aside in the Colorado Bridge Enterprise fund.
Meanwhile, critics of the bridge replacement continued to voice their opinion that, rather than replacing the 61-year-old bridge, the city and CDOT should be working on a plan to build a bypass that would take Highway 82 traffic off of Grand Avenue.
By late October, CDOT released the federally required draft Environmental Assessment for the bridge replacement project. A public comment period ended on the final day of the year, and a formal record of decision to proceed with the project is expected by spring.
Construction on the new bridge could begin by late 2015 and would continue for two years. However, there were more than a few hints from bridge opponents led by the group Citizens to Save Grand Avenue that they might put together a legal challenge to halt the project.
STORM KING 14 REMEMBERED
The Glenwood Springs community, along with firefighters, federal agency officials and many family members from across the country, paused on July 6, 2014, to commemorate the tragic event that took place 20 years ago that same date.
When a fire burning on Storm King Mountain just west of Glenwood Springs claimed the lives of 14 federal wildland firefighters, including hotshots, smoke jumpers and helitak crew members, locals vowed “We will never forget.”
Indeed, when the 20th anniversary rolled around the community pulled out all the stops to accommodate any family members and friends of the fallen firefighters who wanted to hike the Storm King Memorial Trail to the place where 14 granite crosses mark the place on the mountain where each of the brave firefighters died.
That afternoon, hundreds of people turned out for a special commemorative ceremony in Two Rivers Park to remember those who gave their lives protecting Glenwood Springs
“We open our hearts to all of those who put themselves between our town and a most ferocious fire,” Glenwood Springs native and City Councilman Stephen Bershenyi said during the ceremony. “We as a community suffered with you and your heartbreaking loss.”
DINING OUT DOWNTOWN
A partnership between the city of Glenwood Springs, the Downtown Development Authority and several downtown restaurant owners in early 2014 led to the unveiling of a $1 million streetscape project along Seventh Street that brought the new attraction of outdoor dining to the riverfront area.
Several restaurants, including the Glenwood Canyon Brewpub, the Pullman, Juicy Lucy’s Steakhouse and the Riviera jumped on board to create outdoor seating areas in the newly expanded sidewalk space on Seventh Street.
The improvements also included the DDA working with the new owners of the renovated 711 Grand Avenue building to spruce up the alley between Grand Avenue and Colorado Avenue for outdoor dining space and a more pedestrian-friendly walkway. Three new restaurants entered the mix, including Smoke Modern BBQ, the Lost Cajun and the CO Ranch House that went in where Peppo Nino had operated for some 50 years. Longtime owner Tony Rosa, whose family started the restaurant in the 1960s, decided after the summer season that it was time to move on to something else.
Other changes along Glenwood’s “restaurant row” also included the relocation of the Grind to the corner of the Seventh and Grand and a major renovation at the Riviera Supper Club featuring a new by-the-glass wine bar.
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