Are you ready for some gridlock?
As I See It
If the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has its way with replacing the Grand Avenue Bridge, two years from now the residents, commuters, businesses and tourists of this fair city will be facing a 2-month complete closure of the bridge, and the effects of the resulting traffic dislocation. During that closure, all of the 25,000 vehicles that pass through our town every day — including the horde of semi-trailer trucks supplying all of the businesses in the entire Roaring Fork Valley — will be crammed onto the single lanes of Midland Avenue, the only route that will be available.
The resulting gridlock will disrupt all of our schools because school buses and parents attempting to get their students to school will be stuck in traffic. It will also make it impossible for Ride Glenwood and RFTA buses to maintain any kind of schedule, and result in long delays in emergency vehicle response. Air pollution from the exhaust fumes of idling cars and trucks stuck in stop-and-go traffic will create serious public health problems, especially for children, the elderly, and those with any kind of breathing difficulty. Residents in the Midland area and those up Four Mile Road will be faced with the challenge of trying to break into bumper-to-bumper Midland Avenue traffic.
During the bridge closure, the I-70 Exit 114 traffic circles will determine the movement of all traffic entering, exiting or passing through Glenwood Springs, resulting in backups of traffic onto eastbound I-70 in the morning, and massive backups on northbound Highway 82 in the afternoon and evening. It takes only 120 cars to create a half-mile backup on eastbound I-70, and all it would take is one sleepy truck driver driving into the morning sun, to accordion a half dozen or more cars sitting in line.
CDOT claims that the bridge closure will add only 10 minutes to the current drive-through time. I suspect it will be closer to 30 minutes, if not more. CDOT also suggests that residents leave their cars at home and walk or bicycle to work and to shop. How far do you live from where you work — and how far can you carry a week’s groceries?
City Council believes that making Eighth Street a straight shot from Midland Avenue to Grand Avenue will be a big help. Sure, it reduces the distance by one block and eliminates two right-angle turns, but it will have limited effect on the movement of traffic, especially in the afternoon and evening when the I-70 Exit 114 traffic circles will be the bottleneck that determines how fast traffic through town moves.
Does either City Council or CDOT fully recognize the economic impact of this project on local businesses, restaurants, hotels and motels, and on their employees and building owners, and on tourism and the downvalley communities? Also, how realistic is the estimate of a 2-month closure of the bridge? More than 600 feet of the current bridge and landing has to be removed and rebuilt. In addition, the construction of the major reconfiguration planned for the Sixth and Laurel (Village Inn) intersection will seriously affect the functioning of the I-70 Exit 116, requiring partial or possibly complete closures. And it has recently been revealed that a shutdown of I-70 itself will also be necessary during some portion of the project — not a pretty prospect.
This grandiose Grand Avenue Bridge project has two major flaws. First it does nothing to reduce the flow of Highway 82 traffic onto Grand Avenue, a problem that nearly everyone acknowledges will need to be addressed before too many more years. Second, it is “putting the cart before the horse.” A detour that is adequate for the volume of traffic it will have to carry needs to be provided before any shutdown of the Grand Avenue Bridge. A relocation of Highway 82 off Grand Avenue would be the answer to both of these problems, and should be pursued as rapidly as possible.
Ask CDOT and City Council how they can justify forcing the residents of Glenwood Springs to suffer the high cost of the disruption of their community and its economy for the replacement of the Grand Avenue bridge as currently proposed. And be sure to register your opinion by completing and returning the Public Opinion Ballot you will be receiving in the mail.
“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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