Thousands gather as new Grand Avenue bridge officially opens
Upwards of 3,000 people turned out Monday afternoon to celebrate the impending opening of the new Grand Avenue bridge in downtown Glenwood Springs. Little did they know they would be witnessing that historic event firsthand.
The plan had been to open the bridge later Monday night or early today. But project officials made the call within minutes after the final groups of people cleared the south end of the bridge, following a massive community bridge walk across the new Colorado River span, to go ahead and open two lanes to northbound traffic.
At 5 p.m., barely a half hour after the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, the barriers that stood at Eighth and Grand for 85 days were pushed aside.
Much to the delight of Monday evening commuters, who have had to endure long traffic backups along the Eighth and Midland detour route, the usual line of cars extending up Grand Avenue was allowed to proceed onto the shiny new bridge.
Not only was the bridge opening well ahead of the original Nov. 17 date, it opened more than 10 days ahead of schedule.
Cars horns honked, people cheered, and the bars, restaurants and downtown shops were starting to overflow.
“This is something you probably thought would never happen, but here we are, two weeks ahead of schedule,” Mike Lewis, Colorado Department of Transportation deputy executive director, said just before the official ribbon cutting.
“It’s an incredibly exciting day for us at CDOT, but I’m sure it’s much more exciting for you who have had to put up with detours and traffic jams and noise and disruption for the better part of two years,” he said of the duration of the $126 million bridge replacement project, the largest infrastructure project western Colorado has seen in 25 years.
The bridge was expected to open to a full four lanes of traffic going in both directions sometime later Monday night after the rush-hour traffic cleared, CDOT’s project spokesman, Tom Newland, said.
The bridge opening marks the end of a near three-month detour of Grand Avenue and Colorado 82 traffic while the old bridge crossing the Colorado River and Interstate 70 was removed, and the final span of the new bridge completed.
Construction will continue for several more months, as crews work to put the finishing touches on the bridge, build a new, longer I-70 eastbound on ramp, remove the construction platforms in the river, and generally make sure everything is in working order.
Doing the honors for the ribbon cutting was a group of Glenwood Springs Middle School students, including Forest Williams, who was seriously injured in a bicycle accident while riding home from school in September, doing his part to help reduce traffic on the detour route.
Joining Williams for the occasion were friends Dylan West, Cooper Proctor, Elias Gardner and Tom Barton, who were with him that day, secured the scene and called for help.
Glenwood Springs Mayor Mike Gamba offered thanks all around to project officials and all of the stakeholders who were involved from the early stages of planning the bridge project through to the opening.
“I specifically want to thank Police Chief Terry Wilson,” Gamba said of the chief, who spent the better part of the detour period directing traffic at Eighth and Grand, including during the ceremony.
“He and the entire city police department have done an incredible job of managing the traffic during this detour,” Gamba said.
“Not only is he the best police chief in Colorado, but he also has the best hat selection,” Gamba said of the wild hats Wilson would wear during his traffic-cop shifts.
“Terry and I both grew up here in Glenwood, and despite the tremendous challenge this project has been, we have discussed several times how we could not be more proud of our community, and how we came together in many ways to deal with those challenges,” Gamba said.
Kathy Altman of Silt said during the bridge walk that she will certainly be happy to not have to deal with the long waits to get to and from home each day.
“This is just absolutely amazing,” she said. “It will be nice to have a shorter trip when I come to Glenwood, which is most days.”
Chandra Allred’s family has been in the Glenwood Springs area since the 1800s.
“We’ve probably seen every bridge open in Glenwood, so we had to be here for this,” she said during the walk.
Added longtime Glenwood resident Ron Carr, “I think this is terrific, the way something like this is bringing the city together, and the show of unity. And this bridge is just great.”
The speed limit on the new bridge is 25 miles per hour, same as Grand Avenue all the way south to 23rd Street.
With the bridge opening, the Eighth Street and Midland Avenue detour that has been in place since Aug. 14 will be dismantled.
Once four lanes are open, crews were to begin rolling back the I-70 Exit 114 eastbound exit-only lane, and the northbound Colorado 82/Grand Avenue transit lane.
New striping in the downtown square-about on Colorado Avenue between Eighth and Ninth streets was done over the weekend, and Midland Avenue, Eighth Street, Colorado Avenue and Ninth Street were to be converted to their pre-detour configuration.
The temporary traffic signal at the intersection of Eighth Street and Colorado Avenue will return to a four-way stop.
“Even though the bridge will be open, this is not over by any means,” Newland said last week when the bridge opening date was announced, noting that various aspects of construction will continue through June of next year.
Free Roaring Fork Transportation Authority transit services that have been in place during the detour to help reduce traffic will continue through Nov. 22. The Hogback route to western Garfield County will continue to be free through Dec. 8, but buses will begin dropping passengers at the Amtrak station downtown, instead of north of the pedestrian bridge. Hogback service to Parachute will end after Nov. 22.
Glenwood zone buses and Ride Glenwood will resume pre-detour routing on Thanksgiving Day, and the $1 per day fare will return.