Editorial: Build plans now to avoid the bridge snarl | PostIndependent.com

Editorial: Build plans now to avoid the bridge snarl

See that long line of cars headed into Glenwood Springs in the afternoon rush? If you think it’s bad now, wait till fall 2017, when the current Grand Avenue bridge closes for an estimated three months for the final phase of building its replacement. A snowfall that November could back up late-afternoon traffic pretty much to Carbondale.

You don’t want to be in that, do you?

The Colorado Department of Transportation has, optimistically, we think, projected that a trip through Glenwood will take 20 minutes longer — if traffic through town can somehow be reduced by an unprecedented 20 percent. The delay would be worse if traffic is closer to current levels.

The accompanying chart shows that CDOT hopes residents cut their work commuting trips by 5 percent, other work travel by 3 percent and local shopping and errands by 8 percent.

For everyone’s sake, we hope this happens — and suggest that the only way it will is if people begin working this year on trying out alternatives and changing habits.

Late August 2017 seems like a long way off, and it’s human nature to stick with the status quo as long as it’s convenient. If we do that, though, many of us will find ourselves snarled in traffic with no idea of our options. How do I take the bus tomorrow? With whom might I carpool? Should I let people who work for me telecommute?

The $125 million bridge replacement is a massive, multi-tentacled project. For the most part, ordinary residents have little control over how they will be affected — except for their own travel.

CDOT’s public information team has formed a leadership team of major employers and stakeholders to find community solutions to the numerous issues we must deal with over the next two years, including ideas on how to reach that 20 percent traffic reduction.

It’s worth noting here that upvalley stakeholders, including government bodies and Aspen Skiing Co., have been invited but have not yet attended. Memo to those entities: If you think this project isn’t about you, your heads are buried in the snow. Get with it.

Not only is this project a giant subsidy for your operations, creating a moral obligation for your participation in solutions, it will affect your workers, customers and constituents in ways not yet fully known.

At the other end of the scale, Colorado Mountain College is an early role model in preparing for the traffic impacts of the project.

“The bridge for us is a catalyst, even beyond 2017” for goals the regional college has to reduce its carbon footprint, said Pete Waller, CMC facilities director and leader of the institution’s green team.

The school is poised to conduct a survey of employees and students for their views of what is practical. On the table are such ideas as telecommuting, carpooling, changing hours of some operations and working with RFTA on a drop-off point north of the Colorado River to reduce the need for vehicles to take the planned detour from West Glenwood into downtown.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, too, is preparing for crunch time. CEO Dan Blankenship said RFTA is working on adding buses; will double daily routes on Interstate 70 west, extending to Parachute; will make those I-70 routes free during the bridge closure; and will add shuttles around town so people can park in expanded lots and keep individual vehicles off the road.

RFTA also is working with Glenwood Springs city government — and this is exciting — on starting a bike sharing program similar to Aspen’s and many others around the country. Like CMC’s measures, this is a step that could last beyond the time of the bridge closure and help reduce traffic.

The bridge, a needed infrastructure investment and opportunity for downtown Glenwood, won’t reduce traffic on Grand Avenue or Highway 82. That’s up to the people who live here, and CMC’s Waller is exactly right that the project can help lead to lasting change that’s desperately needed as our population grows and traffic is projected to increase.

To that end, we urge a few steps in 2016 to help us all cope with late 2017:

• Let’s take a cue from June’s National Bike Month and the related Ride Garfield County challenge, a competition to see how many bike miles teams formed mostly by businesses can accumulate. Sponsored by the bridge Project Information Leadership Team, from Labor Day to Thanksgiving in both 2016 and ’17, the Saving Miles Competition will recognize teams that avoid driving through taking the bus, carpooling, biking, telecommuting and other methods.

• As CMC did when its downtown Glenwood parking garage was built, employers and the PILT group should provide free bus passes and gift cards to local businesses for people who keep their cars off the road.

• Employers, beyond looking at who can telecommute how often, should consider if they can start shifts at different times to reduce vehicles on the road at the typical peak hours.

• Individually, we can practice taking the bus so we know how at crunch time, we can try biking this year, riding with others, negotiating days to work at home and more.

We’re in this together, and we aren’t powerless — though it will feel like it if you are stuck in that line of cars in 19 short months and haven’t tried any other ways to get around.

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