When new bridge opens, traffic restrictions will be needed for a while
Opening the new Grand Avenue bridge to a lane of traffic in each direction will not be a simple matter of “flipping the switch,” says one of the lead engineers on the two-year-long, $126 million bridge replacement project.
Even if the bridge opens on schedule next month, as expected at this point, some level of continued traffic control will most likely be necessary, said Graham Riddile, project engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
That could involve a prolonged, intentional use of the current Eighth Street and Midland Avenue detour route in some manner to help move Colorado 82 and local traffic through Glenwood Springs, he said.
The ultimate goal is to get the new bridge open to three lanes and eventually four lanes as soon as possible after the targeted Nov. 17 partial opening.
“It’s a little like the saying about doing open heart surgery while somebody is playing tennis,” Riddile said. “That’s kind of how it’s going to be with the phase out of the detour.”
Even with two lanes of the new bridge open, continued backups are likely during the early morning commuter and school rush, and especially in the afternoon and evening when traffic volumes pick up again.
CDOT officials have been meeting with representatives from the joint-venture general contractor, Granite/RL Wadsworth, plus the city of Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to discuss traffic control and an interim transit strategy after the partial bridge opening.
Details will be forthcoming, Riddile and others involved in the planning said. But the detour itself and the measures that are in place now to provide alternative means of getting around besides driving will be peeled back in layers.
“We had such a ramp-up to take the bridge down … we can’t just all of sudden say, ‘OK, the new bridge is open.’ It’s not like flipping a switch,” Riddile said.
RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said the plan for the transit agency’s part is to continue the free Hogback route buses between Parachute and Glenwood Springs until Dec. 8. However, when the bridge opens to two lanes those buses may continue all the way to the 27th Street Station instead of dropping passengers at the north end of the pedestrian bridge, he said.
The free in-town shuttles between the Amtrak station and 27th Street and from 27th to Glenwood Meadows likely will continue for a period of time, as would the city’s Ride Glenwood Donegan Road route.
At some point, those services will go away and the normal Ride Glenwood paid service and RFTA in-town routes will resume, he said.
And, come Dec. 9, RFTA’s winter season schedule begins, meaning the extra drivers now used on the Hogback and other routes will be needed to operate skier services in Aspen and Snowmass, Blankenship said.
At that point, the paid Hogback service between Glenwood and Rifle would resume. RFTA approached the Garfield County commissioners recently about funding some level of expanded Hogback service into next year but was rejected.
The bridge joint venture has a financial incentive of $25,000 per day for up to 10 days to have two lanes open ahead of schedule. Likewise, it faces a $25,000-per-day penalty for going beyond Nov. 16, unless the delay is related to weather or some other factor out of the contractor’s control.
With the fall weather getting colder and wetter on certain days, “all the dominoes have to fall into place” to maintain the construction schedule, Riddile said.
“As soon as they have a driving surface that can be driven on, we’re going to put traffic on it,” he said.
Barriers will need to be erected so that work can continue on the other two lanes. As soon as a third lane can be opened, it may also be possible to run traffic on two lanes in the predominant morning and afternoon direction, he said.
Once open to two lanes, a new Grand Avenue merge point will be established closer to Eighth Street. Project officials have said it will likely take another 30 to 60 days after the initial opening to completely open the new bridge to four lanes of traffic.