Unwrapping the 20-teens: Decade saw a major Glenwood bridge replacement, pot legalization, health insurance woes | PostIndependent.com

Unwrapping the 20-teens: Decade saw a major Glenwood bridge replacement, pot legalization, health insurance woes

Workers were keeping busy leading up to the Aug. 14, 2017 Grand Avenue bridge closure, which brought a three-month-long detour.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent |

A decade that blew in with the local and national economies reeling from the impacts of the Great Recession of 2008 rolls out with some monumental achievements left behind on the local front, for sure.

It was a decade that saw a new, $126-million highway bridge built in Glenwood Springs over the course of two-and-a-half years from 2016 to the middle of 2018 — the Colorado Department of Transportation’s largest Western Slope infrastructure project in 25 years.

It was also the decade that brought the legalization of recreational marijuana sales and use in Colorado with a landmark 2012 vote.

Major concerns about the high cost of health insurance in Garfield County and other rural/resort areas, and some big public lands debates also dominated headlines from 2010 through 2019.

As with a lot of big stories that define a decade, though, it’s really just a chapter in time. There are sure to be some subsequent words written as we roar into the 2020s.

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Bridge to the future

One socio-economic issue has pretty much defined Glenwood Springs over the past several years — traffic.

Construction crews place the steel beams, or girders, on the north side of the Colorado River. The placement of the beams periodically shut down the temporary pedestrian bridge as well as an overnight full closure of the Grand Avenue bridge.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent |

Even though 2018 brought the completion of the new Grand Avenue Bridge in downtown Glenwood Springs connecting state Highway 82 to Interstate 70, the discussion began — or was resurrected — in 2011.

CDOT had long wanted to replace the aging and functionally obsolete bridge for years. In the late 1990s, the city won the initial battle over a plan to build a wider, more intrusive, cookie-cutter bridge.

It would have followed the historic straight-shot alignment from Eighth Street, hop-scotching Seventh Street, the Union Pacific Railroad, the Colorado River and I-70, and using Sixth and Laurel as the final connection to I-70 — just as it had been since the 1950s.

That option was still on the table when CDOT returned in 2011, but so were several other options — including the current curved alignment from downtown Glenwood directly to I-70, with all the bells and whistles you see today.

It was a long, heated debate. One contingent wanted to see the bridge replacement scrapped altogether in favor of further study and action on a bypass route that would take Highway 82 off of Grand Avenue.

Traveling on into the new decade after completion of another bridge replacement at 27th Street, look for the debate to renew over the long-proposed South Bridge project.

‘Legalize it, don’t criticize it’

A trial run into the new era of legal marijuana came with the advent of medical marijuana shops that began popping up across Colorado in the late 2000s following voter approval of Amendment 20 at the start of the new century.

But it wasn’t until the historic approval of Amendment 64 in the November 2012 election that the legal sale of marijuana for recreational use came about.

Medical marijuana patients sit at the bud-tending counter at a dispensary in Glenwood Springs in this 2013 file photo.
Staff Photo |

Even then, it took another couple of years before the regulatory measures were put in place at the state and local levels to treat marijuana sales basically the same as alcohol, which was the intent of A64.

In Glenwood Springs, after the initial question of whether marijuana sales would be allowed at all was answered with a resounding “yes,” it took a couple of starts and stops and restarts before the playing field was ready.

Neighboring Carbondale took the lead in opening the very first marijuana shop in Garfield County, and by decade’s end, five of the six GarCo municipalities had followed suit in allowing legal weed. New Castle remains the lone holdout, but look for that debate to continue into the new decade as well.

Unhealthy situation

The Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. “Obamacare,” was intended to lower the cost of health insurance and expand access to Medicaid across the U.S.

But Garfield County and other rural and resort-area communities in Colorado found themselves in a unique dilemma where insurance costs on the individual market ended up being the highest in the entire country due to a variety of factors related to health care costs, access to health care and lack of competition in the insurance market.

Health insurance costs in Eagle County and the rest of Western Colorado were already among the nation’s highest. They’ll increase an average of 26 percent next year, the state’s Division of Insurance announced in 2016.
Colorado Division of Insurance |

As the debate over Obamacare raged on the national front, it also played out in state and local politics and continues to dominate the discussion headed into the new decade.

‘This land is your land …’

Debates over the use of federally owned public lands in our midst also made headlines throughout the decade.

There was the fight to protect the so-called Thompson Divide region southwest of Glenwood Springs and the top of the Roan Plateau between Rifle and Parachute from oil and gas development.

A compromise to keep drilling and well pads at the base of the Roan was often referenced in the battle to prevent drilling within the sprawling Thompson Divide region.

The Thompson Divide region encompasses the headwaters of Thompson, Divide and Four Mile creeks south of Glenwood Springs stretching from Sunlight Mountain Resort to McClure Pass.
Provided file photo | EcoFlight

One battle was won when the Bureau of Land Management in 2016 agreed to cancel some two dozen undeveloped gas leases in the rugged backcountry, but the war rages on over proposed permanent protections contained in the CORE Act that’s been approved by the House but has yet to be taken up by the Senate.

Concerns about overuse and exploitation of the Hanging Lake area in Glenwood Canyon led to the new hiking permit and shuttle system that was implemented in 2019. The measures, including a limit on daily permits allowed, came in an effort to control the number of people on the trail and at the pristine lake feature.

Alan Brekke from Minnesota takes a photo of the crystal clear water at Hanging Lake in this 2018 file photo.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Finally, the decade ended with a proposal to significantly expand a rock quarry on BLM land near Glenwood Springs — a saga that has social, economic and even political ramifications from Glenwood Springs City Hall all the way up to the White House.

Putting on this journalist’s 2020 vision goggles, the fight against the RMR quarry will surely be the biggest story of the next decade.


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