Transit may be critical to completing funding package for bridge
A transit plan to help usher Highway 82 commuters through Glenwood Springs during the looming Grand Avenue bridge construction in 2016-17 will likely be needed to cut down on long traffic delays, and may also be a way to trigger some more upvalley financial support for the project.
During meetings with local government officials last week seeking extra money for the bridge replacement project, Colorado Department of Transportation Program Engineer Joe Elsen said construction can be expected to add about 20 minutes to the trip through Glenwood Springs.
And that’s only if bridge project officials can achieve their goal of reducing current traffic volumes by 20 percent, either by encouraging people to carpool or use the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus system, Elsen said.
“We have been meeting with RFTA, and have asked them to take a look at what it’s going to take to reduce traffic, especially during the [bridge] closure period,” Elsen said of the 60- to 90-day period, now anticipated in spring 2017, when the existing bridge will be taken off line and a detour from West Glenwood will be in place.
“RFTA is a key partner in this to help get people out of their cars and into buses,” he said, adding the detour period would coincide with the bus system’s “off-peak” time of year when more buses are available.
Any plan to reduce the number of cars on Highway 82 could also serve to free up some more money to pay for the bridge project, which has a Colorado Bridge Enterprise budget of $99 million but is now expected to cost about $10 million to $15 million more than that, based on the latest engineering estimates.
During a meeting with Pitkin County commissioners on Sept. 9, it was suggested that, aside from separate requests for $500,000 from the county and $300,000 from the city of Aspen, those entities may be able to access special Elected Officials Transportation Commission (EOTC) funds to help make up the funding gap.
Those funds, which come from a special Pitkin County sales and use tax and help support RFTA’s free ski season shuttles between Aspen and Snowmass Village, can be used only for capital improvements that have a transit component, county officials explained at the meeting.
The possibility of using EOTC money is likely to come up Monday evening when CDOT officials meet with Aspen City Council with their formal request for city funding.
CDOT is also back before the Garfield County commissioners in Glenwood Springs this morning seeking $3 million over three years to help pay for the new bridge.
The downvalley commissioners have indicated that they would be willing to designate county money for the new pedestrian bridge that’s part of the larger bridge replacement project, but have also expressed concerns about the increasing cost estimates.
Last week, Glenwood Springs City Council also tentatively agreed to commit up to $3 million over three years, contingent on an agreement that CDOT will deliver on certain design elements and aesthetic features meant to lessen the impact of the new bridge on downtown Glenwood Springs.
However, some Glenwood council members were concerned about the disparate amount of money being sought from Glenwood Springs and Garfield County compared with the upvalley entities, which arguably are more reliant economically on getting visitors and resort workers across the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs and up Highway 82 to Aspen.
“I do think it’s a little inequitable that Pitkin County is only being asked for $500,000,” Councilman Mike Gamba said. “We have a lot of impacts associated with this project that they don’t have, and that we are going to have to deal with.”
In fact, dedicating $3 million to the state’s bridge project is going to mean other city infrastructure projects will have to be put on hold, such Midland Avenue and 27th Street bridge improvements, and even the Eighth Street connection which is partially tied to the Grand Avenue bridge replacement.
CDOT is planning to build a temporary extension of Eighth Street across the RFTA-owned railroad “wye” section to use as part of the planned detour route in 2017. The city is studying whether its eventual street connection should use the detour alignment, or follow a different route.
“We’re a town bisected by two rivers, an interstate and two railroads, with very few crossings over any of them,” Gamba said. “As a result, we have a lot of traffic congestion.”
County Commissioner Mike Samson agreed that some “gentle pressure” should be put on the upvalley governments to increase their financial stake in the bridge replacement.
“I do think they have a real need and a want for this bridge to be built, and they are an important player,” Samson said.
Funding decisions by the local entities is also important as bridge project officials prepare to meet Wednesday with CDOT’s Colorado Bridge Enterprise board in Denver to give a project status report, including outside financial commitments.
One question from that board, Elsen said during the Glenwood Springs meeting Sept. 9, will be whether there is local political and financial support for the project. If not, it’s possible the board could ask for project budget cuts or even put the project on hold, he said.
A lot of the additional costs, however, have been on the planning side of the project as the required federal environmental review enters its fourth year, rather than actual construction costs, Elsen also said.
Right of way acquisition to accommodate the planned new bridge alignment, aesthetic features requested by stakeholders in Glenwood Springs, and utility relocation cost are also reflected in the higher-than-anticipated numbers, he said.
“We’re also building a lot of contingencies in all of this,” he said. “That’s part of our job.”
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