Editorial: To: CDOT, re: bridge funds — Don’t come back for more
To our upvalley friends: Thanks for your support, reluctant and tentative as it might be, for the Grand Avenue bridge replacement. You’re getting a sweet deal.
To the Glenwood Springs City Council and Garfield County commissioners: Nice work in approving local money.
To the state: While you should have asked Aspen and Pitkin County for more, this has to be the only round of asking locals to chip in.
Quick background in case you just moved here or hibernated for the summer: The Colorado Department of Transportation has asked for help in closing a $10 million-$15 million gap between the current estimated cost of the project and the $99 million designated from the state’s Bridge Enterprise Fund.
CDOT asked Glenwood Springs and Garfield County for $3 million each; Pitkin County for $500,000; Aspen and Eagle County for $300,000 each.
The project also has won support from a regional transportation group — the Intermountain Transportation Planning Region, which includes Garfield, Pitkin, Eagle, Summit and Lake counties — for up to $3.3 million.
CDOT officials have suggested that local support might help free up more state money if final costs go higher on the project, which of course is likely.
That support has shaped up. Any extra costs, beyond where we are now, belong to the state. Political leaders, including the governor, who told the PI earlier this summer than he strongly supports the bridge replacement, must ensure that this round of hitting up local governments for more money is the last and that the bridge, a boost to the state economy, really happens.
The regional effort is proper. Our traffic problems in Glenwood Springs are the entire region’s traffic problems.
Our upvalley friends — employers and residents — know this. Workers in Rifle, Silt, New Castle and points beyond know this. Suppliers know this. Visitors driving to Snowmass or Aspen know it.
When the bridge is replaced, we will all breathe a bit easier — with the possible exception of inconsolable bridge haters, and even they might come around in time. Fear of the unknown might just prove worse than a major infrastructure investment.
Entering and leaving I-70 will be less tedious, crossing the Colorado River on a modern bridge will be safer, traffic will flow more smoothly and Glenwood can move forward to seize opportunities created.
Regionally, the benefits of the project roll uphill. Almost all of the Snowmass and Aspen visitors, and many of the workers and supplies, from new skis to building materials to food for the many restaurants, travel through Glenwood Springs. People here pay externalities every day with noise and congestion.
In fact, it’s not hard, from this end of the valley, to feel like Pitkin County and Aspen, both of which have expressed hesitation about the amounts they were asked to contribute, should pay more.
So $800,000 from Pitkin County and Aspen compared with $6 million from Garfield and Glenwood? Yeah, that’s fair. Nothing from Aspen businesses that benefit greatly? What a deal!
Pitkin officials had the good thought of tapping a fund that comes from a special Pitkin County sales and use tax and help support the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s free ski season shuttles between Aspen and Snowmass Village. That money can be used only for capital improvements that have a transit component — which is badly needed not only for the bridge replacement project but going forward.
During construction, CDOT officials have the aggressive and probably unrealistic goal of reducing traffic volumes by 20 percent. Even if that happens, they estimate that while the bridge is closed, it will take 20 minutes longer to pass through Glenwood Springs.
A transportation component to the bridge project will pay dividends as traffic on Highway 82 increases, which it is projected by CDOT to do by 50 percent by 2020.
The bridge replacement is a potential moment to not just smooth traffic flow and improve safety, but also to address long-term needs to reduce traffic on Highway 82. Aspen residents and officials, who complain as much about being flooded to capacity by people who want to spend money there as Glenwood residents do about traffic and noise on Grand, should be all in with such a plan.
RFTA officials should be fully behind a push to get more riders, as should CDOT.
In terms of cost-effective spending, a sustained and large publicity campaign to park in Glenwood and take a nice WiFi-equipped bus to work and play upvalley makes all kinds of sense. In time, it could even fuel demand for more hotels in Glenwood and give us more overnight visitors in winter.
As we have said before, the major investment here is an opportunity not to be squandered. We are, fitfully, on our way.
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