South Bridge easement agreement between Glenwood, RFTA finalized | PostIndependent.com

South Bridge easement agreement between Glenwood, RFTA finalized

A photo illustration shows the proposed South Bridge route from Airport road on the left, tunneling under the Glenwood Springs Airport to a Roaring Fork River crossing and connecting to Colorado 82 south of the Holy Cross Energy headquarters.
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Glenwood Springs City Council on Thursday finalized an easement agreement with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority that allows a crossing of the Rio Grande Trail and inactive rail corridor south of town for the future South Bridge project.

Thankfully and remarkably, the June 2002 Coal Seam Fire did not take any lives, but it did force the evacuation of thousands of residents from the South Glenwood area and the Four Mile corridor.

That fire, which burned 29 homes in West Glenwood and over 12,000 acres of land, demonstrated the dire need for an additional access between state Highway 82 and the south end of town.

A Congressional earmark led to a study for such a route, but in recent years the cost to build the bridge over the Roaring Fork River and connecting roads and highway intersection had ballooned to an estimated $65 million. A great deal of that cost, however, was attributed to the fact that, due to the corridor crossing, the city would need to raise a mile’s worth of state Highway 82.

According to correspondence between Glenwood Springs City Attorney Karl Hanlon and City Council, “The intent of this easement and IGA is to allow the city to move forward with the South Bridge project utilizing the crossing of the corridor and connection to Highway 82 that will ultimately save the city approximately $25 million.”

Additionally, since RFTA’s Ballot Issue 7A passed in the Nov. 6 election, $4 million has also been designated for assistance with the South Bridge Project.

“A tremendous amount of credit for the current agreement is attributable to [Glenwood Springs Mayor] Michael Gamba and city staff, who persevered in ongoing discussions with RFTA over many years, and who demonstrated a willingness to address RFTA’s concerns about preservation of the corridor,” RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship said.

Part of the agreement stipulates that the city agrees to create a grade separated crossing of the corridor if, in the future, freight or other rail service gets re-established on the corridor. Until then, the city can cross the corridor and connect directly to Highway 82 with a raised berm and large box culvert that will serve as a trail underpass.

“It is a great step forward,” City Councilor Shelley Kaup said. “South Bridge has kind of been our number one project after the Grand Avenue Bridge, to get that in place for the safety issues [and] to serve that south Glenwood region and up Four Mile.”

Another part of the easement specifies that, should the rail banking status of the corridor get challenged, the city would provide the defense costs. However, RFTA’s attorneys as well as Hanlon are confident that would not happen.

Or, as Gamba frankly stated, “It would have to take someone with more dollars than sense.”

In the end, council thanked city staff, Hanlon and City Manager Debra Figueroa for their work in securing the easement agreement. Council also thanked Gamba for his role during the ardent process and allowed him to make the motion, which passed in a 6-0 vote.

mabennett@postindependent.com