RFTA, city come to terms on 8th Street connection

A rendering of how the new Eighth Street connection may look as Glenwood Springs confluence area redevelopment planning takes shape in the coming years.
Courtesy Downtown Development Authority |

The city of Glenwood Springs’ long-envisioned plan to punch a permanent new street connection into downtown from the west took a significant step forward Thursday.

Meeting in Glenwood Springs for the occasion, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement with the city that paves the way for the Eighth Street connection across the railroad “wye” section of the old Rio Grande line west of City Hall.

The agreement has been in the works for more than two years since the city talked the Colorado Department of Transportation into using the Eighth Street route for its planned detour when the final segment of the Highway 82/Grand Avenue bridge is being constructed in late 2017.

CDOT, which already had its approvals to remove the side tracks and dig a trench for the new roadway, expects to start work on the temporary route as soon as next month. The road could be open to traffic this summer, project spokesman Tom Newland informed City Council last week.

“This is the beginning of a lot of good things happening in Glenwood Springs.”Dan BlankenshipRFTA CEO

The city, meanwhile, is designing a permanent street connection in conjunction with its ongoing planning to eventually redevelop the river confluence, a mix of public and privately owned parcels in the vicinity where the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers meet.

“This is the beginning of a lot of good things happening in Glenwood Springs,” RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said in presenting the agreement to the eight-member board, which is made up of representatives from each of the member jurisdictions from Aspen to New Castle.

“The wye has been kind of a blighted area in the center of the city, and this represents an opportunity for the city to do some things to get more people into town,” he said, calling the river confluence “one of the jewels” of the valley.

The street connection is not yet a done deal. It’s still subject to review and approval by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and assurances that the Rio Grande corridor’s railbanked status will be preserved. RFTA has agreed to support the city’s plans before the PUC.

The Union Pacific Railroad, which retains an easement to use part of the side track, also still has to grant permission for the permanent street connection to go forward, Blankenship said.

Under the RFTA agreement, the city will obtain several parcels that are critical to the confluence development, including a section of the existing Seventh Street right of way.

RFTA and the city will also cooperate and share costs to extinguish the Union Pacific easement on the east leg of the wye that runs between the UP main line and what would be the new street connection.

Great Outdoors Colorado, which provided a portion of the funding for valley governments to purchased the railroad corridor in the late 1990s, also must approve the plans.

In addition, RFTA agreed to grant a formal easement for the new pedestrian tunnel that the city upgraded last year to provide a new foot path between the Seventh Street public parking lot and Two Rivers Park.

As part of its street design, the city is also to build the bridge abutments to accommodate a possible future railroad bridge over Eighth Street. RFTA will reserve $500,000 for the bridge itself, should it be needed.

“This is pretty exciting, and it’s a tremendous opportunity for RFTA and the city of Glenwood Springs to work together to develop a bookend hub on rail corridor,” said Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot, who presided over her final RFTA meeting as chair before stepping down from the mayor’s seat next week due to her family’s move to Redstone.

“I see this as a huge vote of confidence in what the city is doing,” she said.

Glenwood Springs City Attorney Karl Hanlon also thanked the RFTA staff for what he said were “many long hours” putting the agreement together.

“This is a very complicated document, but I believe we have come up with something that is truly in the best interests of the entities involved,” Hanlon said.

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