City, county need a bridge to understanding
“Counties are dogs and cities are cats.”
An acquaintance used this phrase recently to describe the relationship that often exists between municipalities and counties. It also demonstrates that the two can have very different behaviors. Normally, the relationship between the our local city and county is friendly and workable. That connection took a hit with the approval by Garfield County Board of County Commissioners of the FedEx distribution center in south Glenwood.
Not only did this decision strike a nerve with many of the residents, it apparently struck Glenwood’s City Council members the wrong way. The Post Independent reported that City Council member Stephen Bershenyi stated that he was “… mad enough to take somebody to court.”
This came after city staff and council recommended that the distribution center request for a Limited Impact Review Permit be denied. In a memorandum to David Pesnichak, the senior planner for Garfield County, Glenwood Springs Community Development Director Andrew McGregor outlined concerns with “significant shortcomings in the South Glenwood transportation infrastructure.” He also called out operational and structural failures of Midland Avenue and structural and capacity issues for the 27th Street bridge.
However, by a 2-1 vote, the permit was approved with a laundry list of conditions. The conditions called for a $585,000 contribution by FedEx to Airport Road and Airport Center Road, as well as a land dedication for the planned South Bridge to connect Midland to Highway 82 south of Glenwood. In its regular meeting on Oct. 16, City Council voted to reject the road improvement agreement.
WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY
FedEx may be now be exploring other options. I cringe when I think of the time, effort and money that have already gone into this application, not to mention the anxiety this has caused the public. Tension is palpable between the city and county.
An Intergovernmental Agreement for development review dating back to 2001 exists between the city and county. This agreement, while allowing for review and comment by the municipalities named, does not bind the county to comply with recommendations made by municipalities. It does state, “All parties agree to consider each other’s written comments in good faith before making a decision …”
It has been pointed out that the use FedEx is proposing is consistent with other land use in the area. Other approved uses may have even greater impacts. Commissioner John Martin also mentioned that Silver Sage, a residential development, was approved by Glenwood with no requirement for road improvements along Midland.
So can the dogs and cats work out their differences without great cost to developers as well as to taxpayers? Are Midland Avenue and the 27th Street Bridge critical? Is there an even larger elephant in the room?
The city’s concerns with Midland Avenue and Sunlight Bridge are real. The section of Midland from 27th to Four-Mile Road is in horrible shape. According to Robin Millyard, Glenwood Springs public works director, the solution requires more than repaving. The drainage must be revised and slope instability must be mitigated. The cost of Midland Avenue alone could reach into millions. There are numerous issues with Sunlight Bridge, including structural sufficiency of the cantilevered area of the bridge and the fact that it is only two lanes. The intersection at 27th and South Grand as well as the intersection of 27th and South Glen present significant problems.
But here is the elephant in the room: South Bridge.
For city staff, the city’s transportation commission and City Council, South Bridge has been a huge frustration. With South Bridge, the approved location would be an ideal place for FedEx. South Bridge is a key component in the transportation infrastructure of Glenwood Springs and the region. But the city has been unable to find funding to move the project forward. In July, South Bridge was identified by the Intermountain Transportation Planning Region as a top priority for a small pot of money, $17 million over 10 years, and allocated $2.7 million to the project. Recently, Terri Partch, Glenwood city engineer, was told that the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) would not be allowing this to move forward because it was an “off system” improvement.
Trying to scratch together money for a bridge estimated to cost approximately $33.8 million (2012) for a city the size of Glenwood is monumental. South Bridge is a critical component to providing connectivity and reducing traffic on SH 82. It is an economic driver. It is also a serious safety issue. Being able to quickly evacuate the Four Mile area and south Glenwood in an emergency is of paramount importance.
If the city and county are to bring the south Glenwood area to its full potential, then we must have a South Bridge. In order to have a South Bridge, the city of Glenwood Springs and Garfield County must work together to find — and fight for — funding. It is time to look beyond single developments and see that cooperation and collaboration will provide huge benefits for the economy and for the safety and well-being of our citizens. The dogs and cats must learn to genuinely work together.
Kathy Trauger is a Glenwood Springs resident and writer who blogs about Glenwood Springs at http://www.ourtownglenwoodsprings.com. Her Perspectives column in the Post Independent appears on the first Friday of the month.
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