Revisit rebuilding the Grand Avenue bridge
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Here we go again. More than 10 years ago, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) came to the city of Glenwood Springs with a request to replace the current Grand Avenue bridge with a higher, wider and longer structure.
The current bridge is structurally sound, but is not in full compliance with current CDOT standards for state highway bridges. It was built in 1953 as a two-lane bridge with sidewalks. In the 1970s, a new structure was built to replace the sidewalks, and the bridge was converted to four lanes.
Those four lanes are 9 feet, 8 inches wide, less than the 12-foot standard for highway bridges. The bridge also does not meet the 23-foot clearance above the railroad tracks required for new bridges, and the support piers at the north end make the deceleration lanes for westbound I-70 traffic exiting into Glenwood Springs shorter than the preferred length.
These deficiencies stick in CDOT’s craw, and it is itching to spend money to get this bridge off its substandard highway bridge list.
The city turned down CDOT’s previous request because the reconstructed bridge would have been overwhelming in both height and width (nearly to the building faces on both sides). The down-ramp on the south side would not have touched down to the present street grade until the pedestrian crossing at Eighth Street, creating a serious hazard to both pedestrians and drivers when the light turns red to southbound traffic coming off the bridge, particularly in winter.
It is true that the upgrading of this bridge and the construction of a future bypass (better designated as the relocation of Highway 82 off Grand Avenue) are two separate processes, and their costs would be paid out of two separate and independent sources of funding. But the two projects are unavoidably interrelated.
It is inevitable that, barring collapse of the U.S. economy, the day will come when the combination of upvalley and in-town traffic will cause intolerable traffic delays that only a third route through town can resolve.
But if CDOT spends a huge sum of money to bring the Grand Avenue bridge up to its standards, it will be taken off the substandard bridge list. That will solve that problem for CDOT, so in its view Highway 82 will be just fine.
And after spending big money on reconstructing the Grand Avenue bridge, CDOT will be disinclined to spend money for a new route through town. If at some future date it were to fund a relocation of Highway 82, it would have to answer the question of why it spent all that money on a bridge that will become a local bridge.
So you can bet that won’t happen, and we will be stuck for decades with the Highway 82 traffic that is ruining our downtown.
Another important consideration is how reconstruction of the bridge will be done, and what the impact of that construction on traffic and local businesses and tourism will be.
Last time CDOT came to the city with a plan to replace the Grand Avenue bridge, it proposed to replace half the width of the bridge in each of two successive construction seasons, during which there would be only one lane in each direction. Can you imagine if there were only one lane each way for the traffic across the Grand Avenue bridge?
Before Glenwood Springs agrees to any reconstruction of the Grand Avenue bridge, it should schedule a trial run to see how, or even if, traffic could function with only one lane of the bridge open in each direction. Such a trial would need to be for at least a week to give people time to figure out how best to adjust to the situation.
It is even possible that severe congestion might not be limited to only the morning and evening rush periods, but might be a problem throughout most of the day. Of even greater concern is the effect on emergency response by fire and police vehicles and ambulances.
Glenwood Springs needs to tell CDOT that if it wants to reconstruct the Grand Avenue bridge to bring it up to its standards, it first needs to provide Glenwood Springs with a third route through town for the relocation of Highway 82. Then CDOT could turn the Grand Avenue bridge over to Glenwood Springs. The bridge would then no longer be CDOT’s problem, and CDOT could take that bridge off its list of substandard bridges.
Then everyone would be happy.
“As I See It” appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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A crew from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center last week cut disks of wood from trees downed by a powerful avalanche that thundered off Garrett Peak in March 2019. The samples will aid research by dendrochronologists into the epic avalanche cycle.