RFTA considers funding shuffle to support underpass project
Glenwood Council to discuss 27th Street underpass at Thursday’s meeting
Special to the Post Independent
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority may redirect roughly $700,000 in Destination 2040 property tax funding to support a pedestrian underpass at 27th Street and Colorado Highway 82.
More than $2 million is still needed to complete the $10.1 million crossing – approved by the Glenwood Springs City Council in August to improve safety at the busy intersection.
The Glenwood Springs City Council on Thursday will discuss RFTA’s proposal to delay a host of service improvement projects and instead focus on underpass construction.
Among the possible deferments are $298,000 dedicated to a downtown Bus Rapid Transit extension and $395,000 to reroute local RFTA buses to Highway 6 and Highway 24.
“RFTA is really just saying they will wait to do those in a future year,” City Engineer Terri Partch said. “Some of the improvements are actually in consideration through the MOVE Study, so it makes sense to defer them for a little bit.”
RFTA has already allocated nearly $4.3 million for the underpass through Destination 2040, and the agency received more than $3 million in state and Colorado Department of Transportation funding for the project.
Glenwood Springs set aside $500,000 in the city’s 2021 budget to leverage grants, but failed to secure a $1 million Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District grant. Project leaders were told the Colorado Department of Local Affairs would not financially support the endeavor, either, because it was within the state right-of-way.
Remaining costs may be covered by existing reserves, RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said Tuesday. Ongoing COVID-19 mitigation efforts continue to delay planned service upgrades, he added.
“The resources we are not using for those service improvements can be used, we believe, instead to help fill the underpass’ funding gap,” he said. “The longer we wait, the more expensive it gets, and these grants have deadlines in terms of when you have to spend them. We think it’s hopefully a win-win.”
Partch said the underpass is vital to pedestrian safety. A Glenwood Springs man was struck and killed crossing 27th Street by bicycle in 2018, and CDOT records show at least three other non-fatal bike-vehicle collisions reported at the intersection from 2015 to 2019.
“It’s been a safety priority for the city for a long time, and for RFTA, because of the trail crossing there,” Partch said. “We were also able to get grants more easily, I think, for this item that helped push it along.”
The junction at 27th Street and Highway 82 is at the top of CDOT’s list, Region 3 engineer Andrew Knapp said in September, and many of the state’s other major intersections have separated-grade pedestrian underpasses.
“The tunnel would take pedestrians off the roadway and actually bring them underneath,” Partch said. “From a safety and signal optimization standpoint, CDOT thinks it’s important as well.”
The crossing would begin below Highway 82 near the RFTA’s Bus Rapid Transit stop to meet the Rio Grande Trail on the opposite side. The Rio Grande would then go below 27th Street to the northwest corner.
If Council agrees to the proposal, RFTA’s Board of Directors will vote on the deferment during a Jan. 14 meeting.
IN OTHER ACTION
Following Thursday’s underpass talks, Glenwood Springs City Council will discuss extending the MOVE Study using money dedicated to Rio Grande Trail improvements.
The city is partnering with transit authority officials and consultants to develop a 20-year plan that addresses infrastructure and transportation needs. Consultants want more time to develop virtual modeling and collect public input on Bus Rapid Transit service options, parking recommendations and other transportation issues.
A six-month extension would cost $180,000, and RFTA has asked the city to fund half – $90,000 – from the recent Municipal Operations Center sale dedicated to Rio Grande Trail improvements.
Planned trail connections can be done internally for the cost of materials, city staff said, adding that a retaining wall scheduled to be rebuilt should be delayed until a decision is made about the future of RFTA’s Orrison Distribution area.
During its regular 6 p.m. meeting held via Webex this Thursday, Council will also consider MOVE Study recommendations from the Transportation Commission.
Other action items on Council’s Thursday agenda include 2021 Spring Cleanup options and ratification of COVID-19 aid to local businesses hurt financially by mitigation efforts.
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Glenwood Springs City Council member Shelley Kaup says she will seek reelection to another four-year term to one of council’s two at-large seats in the April 3 election.