The Grand Avenue Bridge: CDOT vs. Glenwood Springs |

The Grand Avenue Bridge: CDOT vs. Glenwood Springs

As I See It
Hal Sundin
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Hal Sundin

I came away from the Colorado Department of Transportation’s April 4 Grand Avenue Bridge public open house with the distinct impression that CDOT is concerned only with what CDOT wants, and couldn’t care less about what happens to Glenwood Springs.

And what is really troubling is that most of our City Council seems to be of pretty much the same mind.

First, a little history: The present bridge was built in 1952-53 with two traffic lanes and sidewalks on both sides. To accommodate increasing traffic, in the late 1960s the sidewalks were removed and it was converted to four lanes.

CDOT has told us about all that is wrong with the present bridge. It is old (but it is structurally sound). The clearance over Seventh Street is a few inches short on one side (but that could easily be remedied by a minor lowering of the street). The clearance above the railroad tracks is 22 feet 6 inches (which met the standards when the bridge was built), which is 1 foot less than the current standard for new construction. The pier foundation is subject to scouring by high flows in the Colorado River (but a similar threat to the 23rd Street bridge was easily resolved with a little concrete).

These are really spurious issues, brought up to make the Grand Avenue Bridge look bad in order to try to sell CDOT’s desire to replace it. But the real reason is that the present lanes are only 9 feet, 4 inches wide, which renders the bridge “functionally obsolete” under current highway standards. However, that width must have been acceptable in the 1960s when the bridge was converted to four lanes.

CDOT has presented 11 alternative plans for replacing the present Grand Avenue Bridge.

There are serious disadvantages to all 11 of them. The first four require shutting down two lanes of the present bridge during construction, which would cause massive disruption of traffic.

The other seven would send two lanes of Highway 82 traffic, including semi trucks, onto the neighborhood streets of Colorado and Ninth and/or Cooper and Ninth, with two right-angle turns in each route.

In eight of the 11 alternatives, the Highway 82 connection to I-70 would continue to be via the circuitous Sixth Street route. The other three involve the construction of major traffic circles at Sixth and Laurel, demolishing a number of commercial properties.

What is missing in all of the CDOT alternatives is any consideration of, or planning for, the future necessity of getting Highway 82 off Glenwood Springs’ downtown main street.

What is needed is a comprehensive planning process to assure that whatever is to be built takes into account, and will be compatible with, a future rerouting of Highway 82 when that becomes necessary, and is not built only to satisfy CDOT’s wish to rid itself of the present bridge.

Otherwise, much of what is built may have to be abandoned or demolished when that future need has to be addressed, and will turn out to have been a waste of money.

The configuration of the present I-70 Exit 116 is a perfect example of lack of planning for the future. It was built with an underpass crossing, instead of an overpass crossing. An overpass crossing would have made it easy to replace the Grand Avenue Bridge with a new bridge directly from the 116 exit.

It is recognized that the replacement of the Grand Avenue Bridge and the construction of a third route through Glenwood Springs are two separate projects, with independent sources of funding. But that is no reason that planning for the one should completely ignore the other. That will be a costly mistake.

CDOT has $59 million burning a hole in its pocket and wants the opportunity to oversee this piece of construction so bad it can taste it. The least of its concerns are the costs to Glenwood Springs and its residents for two years of construction and adverse impacts on local businesses, and of mortgaging the future of downtown Glenwood Springs by keeping Grand Avenue committed to Highway 82 for decades, if not for generations to come.

We can only hope that city council members will come to their senses and recognize that they were elected to represent the residents of this city, and should respond to residents’ interests instead of to the wishes of CDOT. Council, not CDOT, should be doing the planning for the future of our city.

There is never a right time to make a wrong decision.

“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

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