Proposed South Bridge project split into 7 phases |

Proposed South Bridge project split into 7 phases

Heather McGregor
Post Independent Editor
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Illustration courtesy Jacobs EngineeringThis aerial photo of the south end of Glenwood Springs shows the preferred alignment for the proposed South Bridge road and bridge project. It would include a roundabout at the three-way intersection of Four Mile, Midland and Airport roads (upper left); roadway improvements to Airport Road, including speed-reduction measures such as speed tables and a second small roundabout (lime green); a rebuilt descent of the end of Airport Road into a cut-and-cover tunnel 30 feet deep, along with regrading of the connecting Prehm Ranch Road (pink); the 240-foot clear span bridge across the Roaring Fork River; a new road across the Jackson Ranch with a new access drive serving Holy Cross Energy (white); and a new intersection onto Highway 82 with a stoplight (peach). Indigo blue lines indicate retaining walls.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Engineers working on the proposed South Bridge project have divided the project into seven phases, and say federal dollars could be used to build some phases that are useful on their own.

The idea of breaking the $30.6 million project up into chunks that could be built over time came as officials faced a hefty total price tag for the preferred alignment alternative.

“The reaction was, ‘Gee, that’s a lot of money,’ so maybe we could phase it so it can be bitten off in bites instead of one whole project,” said Tom Newland, project manager.

South Bridge is being pursued by the city of Glenwood Springs and Garfield County using $5.2 million in federal funds earmarked by Congress in 2005. Its purpose is to provide an emergency evacuation route for the Four Mile area and South Glenwood with a new bridge across the Roaring Fork River and an intersection with Highway 82 just south of Buffalo Valley.

After three years of meetings and studies, city and county leaders chose a preferred route earlier this year. Project engineer Craig Gaskill of Jacobs Engineering Group provided an update to the Glenwood Springs City Council in a work session last week, unveiling the phasing plan and cost estimates for each element.

The next steps are to prepare a draft environmental assessment – required for the use of federal funds – and do preliminary engineering for the road and bridge project.

Once those tasks are complete, the project will have spent about $1.1 million, consisting of $960,000 in federal funds, a $50,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, and $150,000 in local match from the city and county governments.

As a result, the South Bridge project will have about $4.1 million in federal funding still available from the Congressional earmark. That can be applied to right-of-way purchases, final engineering and actual project construction.

With phasing, the local governments could build or improve the approach roads and leave the mostly costly element, a 240-foot bridge across the Roaring Fork River, until later, said Glenwood Springs city engineer Mike McDill.

If an early phase of the project has “independent utility,” meaning that it is a useful improvement without the other elements, the remaining federal earmark dollars could be tapped for final engineering and construction of that phase, Newland said.

Officials with the Federal Highway Administration would make the final decision on whether one or more elements are sufficiently useful on their own before the funds could be spent. As with the study phase of this project, federal funds would pay for 80 percent of costs, while local governments would have to raise the other 20 percent.

No funding sources have yet been identified to provide that 20 percent match or to cover the remaining $26.5 million cost of the total project.

Future expense for commuter rail

An additional $17 million expense for the project would be an underpass for a valley commuter rail service, if and when the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority builds such a system.

At present, RFTA has put commuter rail on the far back burner and is instead working to develop a bus rapid transit system from Glenwood Springs to Aspen within two to three years.

But the RFTA board and the South Bridge project team have been in discussions for about two years about an arrangement for the South Bridge project to also pay the costs of an underpass for rail, if a rail project becomes viable.

A commitment for the city and county to pay for the underpass would be referenced in the environmental assessment, and would then be triggered at the time the new bridge is built.

Because both projects are years away, at best, the underpass commitment still poses unanswered questions:

• How long would the commitment remain in effect? Could it expire decades from now if RFTA does not build a commuter rail system within that time?

• The $17 million cost estimate is in 2011 construction dollars. What would be the limits on that figure changing with inflation and other economic changes?

These matters will be the subject of negotiations in the coming months as the environmental assessment is prepared.

Environmental assessment elements

Jacobs Engineering of Denver is to finish the environmental assessment by the end of the year. That will be followed by a decision document in mid-2012 that would confirm approved or required aspects of the project.

In the meantime, environmental assessment is to include:

• Traffic analysis at intersections and on existing roads

• Safety analysis

• Noise model for adjacent properties

• Effects on historic properties

• Analysis of wetlands, water quality, air quality, wildlife

• Analysis of socioeconomics and land use

A newsletter on the project is to be mailed later this month to about 700 property owners within the project area. Information about the project is online at

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