Afternoon gridlock hits Glenwood on Day 1 of bridge detour
A day that began with relative smooth sailing through the Grand Avenue Bridge detour during the upvalley morning commute, ended in project officials’ worst nightmare as the backlog of reverse traffic extended well into the evening.
By 8 p.m. Monday, traffic was still bumper-to-bumper on northbound Grand headed through the designated Colorado 82 detour route to Eighth Street and north Midland Avenue to Interstate 70 Exit 114.
Causing the most consternation for Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson and members of the bridge project team were the numbers of motorists diverting from the detour route onto 27th Street and the middle section of Midland Avenue.
Officials have been warning motorists in the weeks and months leading up to the bridge detour to not try to side-skirt the designated through route.
Wilson said he counted 236 vehicles between 7 and 7:30 backed up from the traffic signal at Eighth and Midland all the way to the 27th Street roundabout.
Given the signal timing at Eighth and Midland that was allowing about six to eight vehicles through at a time, it made the off-piste trek about an hour and a half, Wilson said.
Detour traffic was also backed up south of Glenwood to about the Buffalo Valley intersection as the sun set, but was at least being allowed to flow freely, he said.
“What we saw today was exactly what we said would happen when you take three lanes of traffic and trickle them down into one,” Wilson said. “That hit us really hard at about 3:30 p.m.”
The main message going into day two of the detour is for motorists traveling through Glenwood Springs, whether it’s during the morning or afternoon rush hours, or in the middle of the day, to stay on the detour route, he said.
Graham Riddile, project engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation, agreed that Midland Avenue is not the best option, though at times motorists were being flagged through in effort to clear out some of the traffic.
“We are seeing too many people going up Midland, and it’s a real difficult thing to crack down on. We want people to settle into a pattern of using the detour,” he said. “Keeping the detour traffic off of Midland protects those neighborhoods and lets those residents get to where they need to go.”
One Midland Avenue resident was clearly not happy with the situation.
“Against the advice of traffic planners, lots of people took Midland north from 27th Street to Eighth … emitting lots of exhaust fumes while moving at approximately one mile per hour through our residential neighborhood,” Nick Kelly said.
“Meanwhile, across the Roaring Fork, vehicles on the Grand Avenue official detour route appear to be moving faster,” he said.
The morning commute time was a different story. Except for a long backup onto Interstate 70 as people waited to enter the detour route at Exit 114, the detour route itself was flowing smoothly.
The free Roaring Fork Transportation buses coming in from the western Garfield County Hogback route were full for the most part, and lots of people were biking and walking around Glenwood Springs to try to cut down on traffic.
Though difficult to quantify, officials did not believe they achieved the targeted one-third reduction in the number of vehicles traveling through Glenwood Springs; certainly not during the afternoon/evening period.
A continuing challenge will be to get more single-occupant vehicles off the road in favor of people carpooling with friends or coworkers, or taking the bus.
Tracy Trulove, CDOT Region 3 communications manager, said many drivers reported seeing lots of single drivers on the detour route, and it appeared that many people were rolling the dice Monday to test how difficult the detour will be to navigate.
Those same commuters will need to keep adapting and trying something different than they tried Monday, she said.