Red light, green light

Dennis Webb
Post Independent Staff

Gridlock came to Glenwood Springs Thursday with the closing of the alternate route through town due to construction.

Police were directing traffic and issuing tickets to motorists blocking Grand Avenue intersections, and city officials were scrambling to see whether changes in traffic signal timing might help ease congestion.

“Everything is just totally a mess. It’s really a mess,” City Council member Chris McGovern said via her cell phone as she tried to drive through town later Thursday afternoon. She said she got on Grand Avenue at 11th Street, and it took her 20 minutes to reach the Grand Avenue Bridge. Later, back downtown and heading south on Grand, she described a massive backup of cars trying to go north. “I’m looking at traffic as far as I can see, and it’s just stopped,” she said.

Traffic already had been backing up on Grand in recent days due to detours and construction work on the western portion of the Midland Avenue alternate route, at Glenwood Meadows and the Interstate 70 interchange in West Glenwood. However, on Thursday construction crews shut down the route altogether for the start of a reconstruction project at the intersection of Midland and Eighth. The intersection is scheduled to be closed until June 9, while a temporary detour route is built.

Police platooned traffic officers at the main Glenwood Springs I-70 exit Thursday morning in an attempt to help ease congestion there during the morning rush hour. Thursday afternoon, police worked downtown, ticketing Grand Avenue motorists who ignored red lights and clogged intersections so motorists couldn’t turn onto the city’s main artery from side streets such as Eighth and Ninth. Police Chief Terry Wilson served as a spotter, directing violators toward other officers who were writing up citations.

“You’re kind of sitting in the middle of the intersection,” Wilson told one motorist. “Meet the officer there. You’ll get your ticket.”

The violator would have to wait in line. Two other drivers were ahead, waiting for citations.

Robin Haney, owner of Robin’s Hallmark downtown, had watched motorists blocking side street traffic even on Wednesday night, before Thursday’s shutdown of the alternate route. She experienced the problem herself when she tried to pull onto Grand after work.

“It’s hard. I was third in line and sat through two (traffic light) cycles,” she said.

The drivers of the two cars ahead of her gave up and turned right rather than left, she said. She worries that motorists might get impatient as the summer heats up. “I haven’t seen a lot of horn honking or fists waving out windows, but I think it’s just beginning,” she said.

The problem isn’t limited to rush hours. When a minor, midday accident occurred at the south end of the Grand Avenue bridge Thursday, closing part of one southbound lane, traffic backed up a mile onto I-70 for eastbound travelers exiting at Glenwood Springs, Wilson said.

City engineer Larry Thompson said he hopes things go a little more smoothly as motorists adjust to the alternate route closure.

“Any time that you make some changes to traffic patterns, and we made some probably drastic ones (Thursday) morning, some people are caught off guard by it even though we’ve tried to get the word out on it,” he said.

He said the city has contacted the Colorado Department of Transportation and is looking into extending the length of green lights on Grand during rush hours to try to smooth traffic flow. That measure, combined with restrictions on left-hand turns from side streets, helped keep traffic moving during the recently completed repaving of Grand.

“I think we learned some good things there. I think we figured out that we can move traffic better by making certain changes. We’ll apply things as they’re applicable here,” he said. On the other hand, the city doesn’t want to overly restrict motorists’ access from side streets onto Grand. “We have to balance their needs with getting traffic moving on Grand Avenue,” he said.

McGovern said she fears that restricting side-street access onto Grand as occurred during the repaving project will further hurt downtown businesses that suffered slowdowns during that project, and could spell the end for some of them.

Wilson doesn’t want to see access to businesses again restricted by preventing left-hand turns onto Grand. But he said motorists will find it a lot easier to turn right rather than left onto Grand. He also urged people to try to change when they go to and from work, and to carpool, bike, walk, or ride the bus. They also need to drive carefully and patiently, he said.

“People just need to be aware that this is going to be a major problem for several months,” Wilson said.

Even when the temporary detour through the Midland-Eighth intersection opens, travel on the alternate route will continue to go slowly due to that and other construction, Wilson said. Motorists using Midland still will have to get there by going downtown rather than taking the 27th Street bridge, he noted. That’s because Midland will remain closed south of the Eighth Street intersection for the length of the intersection project.

This summer’s traffic congestion could make things hard on Wilson and his staff. Having spent months helping keep traffic flowing during the Grand Avenue repaving, police could face a similar task this summer. Wilson said he’s not sure his department can be doing traffic work every day. “At times you don’t have the people,” he said.

Meanwhile, police are taking some complaints from residents on Red Mountain Drive because some motorists are using that as a detour around the closed Midland intersection. The city is discouraging use of the drive because it is residential and has a narrow bridge. Signs have been posted alerting other motorists that the drive is for local use only. But Thompson said the drive is a public road.

“We’re probably not going to be able to prevent anyone from using it,” he said.

One Red Mountain Drive resident, Jeremy Heiman, didn’t find traffic too bad in front of his home as of late Thursday afternoon. “It’s definitely way busier than usual,” he said. But he said it wasn’t bumper-to-bumper.

“It’s just not a big deal right now. We’ll see what happens.”

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