Next phase of LOVA trail plans about to be bid out, but extra dedicated RFTA funds likely needed
Two years of delays driven in part by the pandemic have only increased costs for the next phases of the planned Lower Valley (LOVA) Trail construction west of Glenwood Springs, a trail project official said.
Those plans are pushing forward nonetheless, Jeanne Golay, the executive director for the nonprofit LOVA Trails Group, advised the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board on Thursday.
Golay gave an update on the trail-building efforts, and said her group is prepared to come before the intergovernmental transit and trails agency after the first of the year for another funding request.
“We have two large, grant-funded projects in play that are about to go to bid before the end of the year,” Golay said.
The second of those projects — a fairly technical, 850-linear-foot “Meet Me in the Middle” section along the riverbank at the east end of South Canyon to a lookout point over the Colorado River just west of Glenwood — is heavily dependent on the other being completed by next June before it can proceed, Golay said.
That first project — a trail connection from Canyon Creek west to New Castle — is less technical and not as expensive, but it’s bureaucratically complicated due to multiple property owners near the Interstate 70 interchange, Golay said.
Negotiations between the trails group and the Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which has its offices there, and the Union Pacific Railroad have been necessary to accommodate the trail alignment, she said.
“There’s very little room for a 10-foot-wide path there, which has been a large cause of the delays we’ve experienced,” Golay said.
A $500,000 CPW Colorado the Beautiful grant awarded for the trail project in 2018 has already been extended once with a completion date of June 30, 2022. In the meantime, some of CDOT’s procedures have also changed, she added.
“And, we’re seeing a 25-30% cost escalation,” Golay said. That could tack on another $500,000 to $600,000 to the roughly $2 million budget for the two projects combined, she said.
Voters in the RFTA district, which stretches from Aspen to New Castle, excluding the unincorporated parts of Garfield County, in 2018 approved a major property tax measure to improve bus transportation services and build trail connections.
The LOVA trail was earmarked for $2 million of those “Destination 2040” funds, but only $175,000 has been allocated so far, RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said.
That money was used to match a $700,000 Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District grant for the “Meet Me in the Middle” project.
Timing is everything to proceed with both trail projects in succession next year, Golay said.
The CPW grant also serves as a match for the FMLD grant for the other stretch. So, if that grant is lost, “it jeopardizes this project, as well,” Golay explained. The FMLD grant was also extended, and work on the South Canyon section is to be completed by Dec. 1, 2022, she said.
“We will have a better idea of the amount of the shortfall once bids are received,” Golay added.
The LOVA board expects to be back before the RFTA board in February with a specific request to make up that shortfall, she said.
The much larger LOVA Trail project envisions an uninterrupted series of trail connections through western Garfield County, eventually tying into existing Mesa County trails to the Utah state line.
Another local segment, from the lookout point west of Glenwood Springs to South Canyon where another short trail section already exists, is about 70-80% planned but does not have construction funding, Golay said. That section will involve a cantilevered trail with large retaining walls between I-70 and the river.
Blankenship said a combination of additional state grant funding and possible federal infrastructure dollars are being eyed to complete what’s expected to be a total $20 million cost for the South Canyon stretch.
Farther west, the town of Silt and Garfield County are also working to piece together funding for a trail connection between Silt and Coal Ridge High School.
Likewise, preliminary work is being done to connect a trail from New Castle to the high school.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or email@example.com.
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