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Not much progress made in Eighth Street connection

John Gardner
jgardner@postindependent.com
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Despite city council’s approval of $6 million for the Eighth Street realignment project budgeted for 2009, it’s money that is not likely to be spent this year.

According to Glenwood City Manager Jeff Hecksel the funds were approved last year based on hopes that construction was a possibility in 2009.

“The money approved for the budget was for construction,” Hecksel said. “We were hopeful that we would be able to construct it this year, but it is not going to happen.”



The primary hold up, according to Hecksel, is the city’s inability to successfully acquire a Public Utility Commission Permit to relocate the rail line crossing from Seventh Street to Eighth Street.

Hecksel said that the rail line is still used by Union Pacific Railroad Company for storage and that the company retains the rights for use of the rail in instances when a train needs to be turned around.



According to Glenwood Mayor Bruce Christensen, Union Pacific objected to the relocation plans after the city applied for the PUC permit in June 2008. After which, the city pulled the application, stalling the project for the time being. It was unclear as to what the specific objection was.

City Council has been considering the Eighth Street connection project since at least the fall of 2005. According to Hecksel, the city has been working on the project for a lot longer than that.

“It originated before I got here in 2004,” he said. “It’s been an issue for a while.”

According to a story published in the Post Independent in January of 2006, the city has been contemplating connecting Eighth Street to the Seventh Street Bridge that spans the Roaring Fork River since at least 1998 when it was included in the city’s comprehensive plan.

It’s also been included in the city’s downtown development plan in 2002, the long-range transportation plan in 2003, and the redevelopment strategy for the confluence area of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers in 2003 as well.

The plan is for a more direct route from Midland Avenue to downtown Glenwood by diverting traffic to Eighth Street after the Seventh Street bridge.

Past estimations projected completion in late summer of 2007. But issues have stalled any progress for years.

According to Christensen the rail road seems to be the parking block on the project.

“I certainly have some frustrations that it’s not moving along as quickly or as smoothly as we want it to,” Christensen said. “But it’s not uncommon with the rail line. That really adds a lot of issues.”

Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s Director of Properties Mike Hermes said the current hold ups between RFTA, Union Pacific, and Glenwood Springs arises because the rail corridor is considered a “rail bank” for future transit use.

Hermes said that when RFTA purchased the property from Union Pacific, the rail company reserved a “trackage right” on the rail line, similar to an easement on the property, from the main rail line that runs through Glenwood Springs to Tenth Street.

“We have to protect the rail banking,” Hermes said. “They are the owners of the rail and we have to make sure that the obligations are met.”

The city filed an application to relocate the rail crossing and changed initial plans from putting the street underneath the tracks, to an at-grade crossing where traffic would pass over the tracks.

Attempts to reach a Union Pacific representative for comment were unsuccessful.

Hermes said that RFTA, too, had some issues with the preliminary plans regarding track alignment and where the tracks would cross Eighth Street, among other safety concerns. However, he said that it wasn’t anything that would stop the project’s progress.

“I don’t see anything that is a deal breaker,” Hermes said.

Both Christensen and Hermes indicated that the relationship between RFTA and the city was still a good working relationship. The biggest issue is between the city and Union Pacific Railroad. And if an agreement is not reached it could have a big impact on other projects.

Christensen said that the connection is still an important part of the city’s confluence plan.

“It really does have an impact on the future of the development of downtown,” Christensen said.

But it’s a project that he considers very valuable, even after all these years.

“The project has a lot to do with the confluence project and we need to pursue it and try to get it done,” he said.

Hecksel agreed that the city would proceed as aggressively as it can afford, but that it’s been a long and frustrating project.

“It is frustrating,” Hecksel said. “I hoped the city would be under construction with the extension by now.”

“It is one that we had hoped we could have completed by now,” Christensen said.

Part of the project was to be paid in part by the half-cent street tax fund approved by voters in 2005, but most of the $6 million would come from bonds and grants according to Harman.

To date, Hecksel said that only some preliminary engineering has been done. The next step is coming to an agreement of some kind with Union Pacific to end the stalemate.

Contact John Gardner: 384-9114

jgardner@postindependent.com


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