Upper valley contemplates bridge detour plans
People living and working in and around Aspen, and throughout much of the Roaring Fork Valley, can be “notoriously late to RSVP” for things, notes Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron.
But the earlier and more frequently the conversation can take place around the looming impacts of a planned three-month detour through Glenwood Springs late next year as the final segment of the new Grand Avenue bridge is being built, the better, he and other upvalley officials agree.
“Aspen is aware of the project. That in itself is a success,” Skadron said.
“I think there is a willingness for everybody to do their part to help reduce traffic during that time,” he said. “I also think the leadership both here and down there could do a better job of informing the commuting public of what alternatives are available to them.”
State Highway 82 from Glenwood Springs to Aspen is the primary lifeline for commerce and leisure throughout the valley. The detour period, projected to be from late August through November of 2017, will certainly prove challenging for upvalley job commuters, delivery truck drivers, tourists and others.
The Colorado Department of Transportation and city of Glenwood Springs leaders are working on a goal to reduce traffic levels by 20 percent during the 2017 detour period in an effort to lessen travel delays as much as possible.
When it takes effect, the detour will divert eastbound Highway 82 traffic starting at Interstate 70 Exit 114 in West Glenwood onto Midland Avenue and into downtown Glenwood by way of a new Eighth Street connection, then back onto Grand Avenue just south of the bridge. Westbound traffic will follow the same detour in reverse order.
That 20 percent traffic reduction goal will be especially important during the peak morning and evening commuter times, said Tom Newland, public information manager for the Grand Avenue bridge project.
Project officials are hoping to increase the normal travel time through Glenwood Springs by no more than 15 minutes during the detour period.
“But if we don’t get that 20 percent reduction, it could be double that easily,” Newland said.
Achieving it will take a combination of convincing locals to change their in-town travel patterns to avoid those peak times while also encouraging upvalley commuters to alter their travel times or, better yet, get out of their cars and onto the bus.
Newland has begun meeting with upvalley employers, including the Aspen Skiing Co., as well as elected officials and civic groups, to get the word out about the bridge project and the planned detour period.
“We haven’t really started any strategic planning yet, but we will definitely have a plan in place for both our employees and our guests, and how we plan to communicate with them about the bridge project,” said Jeff Hanle, public relations director for SkiCo.
One piece of information he said SkiCo officials would like to obtain is how many of its employees live on the other side of the Grand Avenue bridge and would be directly affected.
“We already run some carpool vans down valley every day, and we subsidize bus passes for our employees,” he said, adding that will continue and possibly be expanded during that time.
Any fall season visitors coming from the Front Range would also have the option of driving over Independence Pass, Hanle said, until it closes for the season, which is usually sometime in November.
HIGHER ASPEN PARKING FEES?
Skadron pointed out that the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, representing the governments of Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County, agreed to allocate $380,000 to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority for expansion of bus service to Parachute/Battlement Mesa during the detour period.
“Even today, I’m hearing that people are starting to modify their route through Glenwood and using Midland as an option,” Skadron said.
For its part, the city of Aspen has also taken up the conversation about increasing its parking fees, he added. It’s one way to encourage more people to use alternative modes of transportation in general, not just in conjunction with the downvalley bridge project, he said.
Debbie Braun, president and CEO for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, said her organization has also begun alerting its members to the fact that the bridge project has started and that commerce could be impacted.
“Most businesses are in high season right now, so the focus is on getting through this ski season,” Braun said. “But people are aware of it, and are very concerned.”
She commended bridge project officials and the city of Glenwood Springs for working to get information out to upvalley governments and business entities about the project.
“Unless you’re in the middle of it, though, you don’t really understand impacts until you go down the valley and see it firsthand,” Braun said. “For some, that lightbulb really won’t go off until a worker is not at their job on time, or they’re directly affected in some other way.”
One of the bigger challenges could be the timing of some of the other larger construction projects, not only in the upper valley, but in the Basalt and Carbondale areas, which could be in progress in the middle of the bridge detour.
“It’s such a long process for these projects to get through just to start construction,” Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman said. “Then you have financial commitments and you have to get contractors lined up.
“It’s hard for someone to think about putting a project off for six months” to avoid the bridge detour, he said.
“And it’s not just the upper valley, there will also be a lot of construction going on farther downvalley,” Newman said, pointing to the next phase of development at Willits Town Center in Basalt and the recently approved Carbondale City Market project.
Public projects, such as the Basalt Highway 82 underpass, also need to move forward, pointed out Basalt Planning Director Susan Philp.
“We do have good reason to move forward with that project, because if we don’t, we lose federal funding,” she said. And the timing now calls for construction to begin later this year and run through 2017.
“From our perspective one thing is clear, and that is that we are real supportive of the (Grand Avenue) project, and we want it to happen,” Philp said, noting that Basalt was part of the Intermountain Transportation Planning Region project prioritization discussions that ultimately led to another $3.2 million state funding commitment for the $125 million bridge project.
“It’s also going to affect our own employees who live on the other side of the bridge,” she said. “That’s something we need to plan for.”
Same is true in Aspen, Skadron said. Of the city’s 300 employees, 34 commute from the other side of Glenwood Springs, he said.
“Most of them are already traveling on RFTA,” Skadron said, adding that the city provides bus passes for its workers who want them.
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