Rifle takes steps to become more pedestrian-friendly
RIFLE — Construction on pedestrian improvements stretching across eight blocks of Whiteriver Avenue is scheduled to start in June. Once it is completed in the fall, the project will serve as a small but important segment of a larger plan designed to make Rifle more pedestrian- and bike-friendly — a move that, if successful, could pay noticeable economic benefits.
The push really started in the past five years, and it was reflected in the city’s comprehensive downtown transit oriented development strategic plan released in 2014, said Nathan Lindquist, Rifle planning director. In that time the city, through partnerships with other entities, improved sidewalks on Prefontaine Avenue near Rifle High School and improved sidewalks on Railroad Avenue, which serves as downtown’s main artery, in addition to other projects. Sidewalk repairs and improvements totaled $54,665 in 2012 and 2013 in the city’s street improvement fund, according to budget documents.
The project on Whiteriver calls for new sidewalks from 10th to 18th streets, along with improved drainage and the installation of crosswalks. City Council is expected to select a winning bid at its May 20 meeting. All told, the improvements are projected to cost $600,000, according to project documents. Around two-thirds of the project will be paid for with a $400,000 Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District grant, for which council authorized the city manager to execute an agreement at its May 6 meeting.
Like many infrastructure projects, the Whiteriver Avenue improvements would not be feasible without grant funding, Lindquist said. The city is expected to start construction this year on a connector for the Rifle Creek Trail with Railroad Avenue, as well as construction of the Morrow Drive Trail and Government Creek Trail thanks to $20,000 in grant funding from LiveWell Garfield County.
Leveraging city dollars for grant funding to build trails and improve sidewalks could pay off, said Clark Anderson, rocky mountain program director at the Sonoran Institute. Market research shows that people are increasingly looking for communities that provide convenience and easy access to day-to-day amenities. In turn, more people walking around town make the community more attractive to businesses, Anderson said, citing Seventh Street in Glenwood Springs as an example.
“People are placing a premium on a sense of character, sense of place,” Anderson said, “and walkable neighborhoods tend to provide that because you see people out on the streets walking around.”
A pedestrian and bike friendly community adds to the overall quality of life, which is becoming increasingly important among employers, said Mel Kent, Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp. manager. When stakeholders were trying to land the Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting at the Rifle-Garfield County Regional Airport, quality of life was part of the conversation, albeit a small one, he added.
“We had to produce equal to or better than the competition and … well, the result tends to speak for itself,” Kent said.
Quality of life is huge, said Gary Miller, longtime Rifle resident and owner of Miller’s Dry Goods. An avid mountain biker, Miller said he would eventually like to see trails connecting neighborhoods to popular mountain bike trails on the outskirts of town.
At the moment, the city is focusing on downtown improvements and trails that connect the city’s core with surrounding neighborhoods, but the main driving force is the availability of grant funding, Lindquist said. At the top of the priority list are the LOVA Trail, which will run along the south side of the Colorado River, and the Gateway Trail, which would connect the Rifle Creek Trail north of the river with the LOVA tail.
Both projects depend on the success of efforts to obtain grant money. This city is in the process of applying for a Colorado Parks and Wildlife grant for the LOVA Trail and a federal transportation grant for the Gateway Trail. If successful, construction on both trails could start in the next three years.
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Update 6 a.m. Monday: I-70 eastbound was reopened between mile markers 105 and 114, New Castle to Glenwood Springs, just before 3 a.m. after an overnight closure due to a minor injury, multi-vehicle crash.