Editorial: We can cope with this First World problem
The long-debated, long-envisioned Grand Avenue bridge project is upon us, already disrupting downtown Glenwood Springs travel sooner and more than probably most of us expected at this early stage.
And, of course, this is just the beginning. Lesser closures, such as Seventh Street being shut down during the day and this week’s daytime reduction to one lane each way on the bridge itself give us a little taste of what the next two years will be like.
This early impact can and should help us plan and practice for what we will do during The Big Closure of the bridge itself in late 2017.
Take a deep breath. It’s inconvenient, but it’s going to be OK.
First, let’s recap the big picture. The bridge replacement project is a $125 million infrastructure investment in our town and region.
All across the country, bridges are aging and in disrepair. The Grand Avenue bridge is not among the nation’s worst — those classified as “structurally deficient” or “fracture critical.” Yet. At 63 years old this year, it is merely “functionally obsolete,” too narrow for today’s traffic and lacking emergency lanes.
The project and two years of sometimes-painful inconvenience holds several bright sides for Glenwood Springs and the region, not the least of which is that the bridge so critical to Garfield and Pitkin counties’ economy will never be on the long, expensive list of American bridges with structural troubles.
We also need to keep our heads up and mind’s eyes on the terrific opportunities the project will open up on the north side of the Colorado River, making Sixth Street more pedestrian- and tourist-friendly and creating business opportunities that will be a boost to our town.
In addition to the main vehicle bridge, we get a new pedestrian bridge farther separated from traffic than at present, with spots to stop, linger and take in the remarkable view of the Glenwood Canyon’s mouth and the Colorado River.
With traffic headed to and from I-70 moved off of Sixth Street, Glenwood Springs gets a much larger, more walkable downtown connected by a wide, well-designed footbridge over a fabled river. Other towns would drool over this.
Regarding tourism, even during construction Glenwood and its surroundings throughout the project will still have world-class rafting and fishing, amazing hikes and scenery, great bike trails, a hilltop amusement park and cave tours, two hot springs with pools, several really good restaurants and more readily accessible peace than the metro areas from which most of our visitors come.
Given the importance of visitors to our economy, the next two years bring challenges because of parking and traffic disruptions.
This has an upside as well, by bringing downtown business people and public sector leaders together to seek solutions.
Two efforts are under way here, one led by the bridge project communication team and one convened by the Glenwood Chamber Resort Association.
The cooperation, brainstorming and various visitor guides that will come from this should continue beyond the construction period and help build lasting public-private collaboration on downtown, traffic and tourism issues. The discussion and relationships can bear as much fruit in 2018 and beyond as during the construction project.
Again, we would like to see upvalley concerns actively involved in helping address these transportation issues, which are regional in nature and whose solutions benefit SkiCo as much as they benefit Grand Avenue retailers.
OK. We get an expanded, more walkable, bikeable downtown. We are seeing the beginnings of new public-private cooperation and collective brainpower.
It’s also possible that individuals, forced to deal with the hassles of a major construction project, will learn alternatives to the one-person, one-car model of transportation that clogs our streets.
As we wrote before, one of the only aspects of this project over which residents have control is how they travel. Carpool, learn to take the bus, bike, telecommute, change the hours of your local errands and walk when you can. These steps, once habit, can create lasting change that reduces traffic and parking stress — and, potentially, personal stress.
Much information will be available throughout the project to help you avoid the worst crunches and help visitors continue to enjoy Glenwood’s many amenities.
The Colorado Department of Transportation has a project web page at https://www.codot.gov/projects/sh82grandavenuebridge. There you will find project contact info, the phone hot line at 970-618-9897, and team’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The project also has a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GrandAveBridgeProject/.
In addition, the Post Independent has started a web page dedicated to the project at postindependent.com/bridge that we intend to make your one-stop destination for bridge information.
Like the bridge project, this page is under construction, but we have aggregated our latest coverage, some background, drawings and community information such as the Hot Springs Pool’s upcoming parking plan. As the project heats up, we will add a live social media feed.
On Feb. 1, we’ll start a weekly bridge question-and-answer feature with project communications manger Tom Newland.
What we’ve got here, folks, is a First World problem. We can handle it.
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