OUR VIEW: Build a pedestrian bridge over Grand | PostIndependent.com

OUR VIEW: Build a pedestrian bridge over Grand

Traffic travels along Grand Avenue on a weekday afternoon.
Christopher Mullen / Post Independent |

Crossing State Highway 82 can be an exasperating and even unsafe proposition, particularly on foot and particularly on Grand Avenue in downtown Glenwood Springs.

Downtown Glenwood traffic is thick and the lights are slow to change. Visitors and downtown workers often give up on crossing or, sometimes, try to bolt across the street during a rare break in the traffic. The situation inhibits strolling, harms the vacation vibe and almost certainly costs the sales-tax dependent city and its merchants money.

We — Glenwood Springs residents and leaders, with state help — can do something about this short of focusing on an unrealistic half-billion-dollar bypass. We can push for a downtown pedestrian walkway over Grand.

The bypass is pie in the sky, at least for now, and Glenwood’s continuing obsession with it gets in the way of this town getting behind smaller, affordable solutions that can make a difference within two years.

Grand Avenue traffic is bad by any measure, particularly for a small town that must leverage its tourism economy.

We challenge Colorado’s political and transportation leaders to stand at Eighth or Ninth and Grand on a weekday and say with a straight face that the Colorado Department of Transportation has focused adequate attention on finding ways to ameliorate the impact of our traffic.

CDOT should foot the bill for an overpass as a matter of pedestrian safety, as a way to make up for the damage to businesses during bridge construction and to offset its bias toward timing Grand Avenue lights in favor of traffic flow through town rather than foot and vehicle traffic across town.

Let’s knock down what’s not going to happen: It is true that a bypass would ease traffic and improve the pedestrian ambiance. But that ship has sailed. It can’t be said often enough: Glenwood residents, the half-billion-dollar (or more) bypass isn’t going to get built anytime soon, if ever. The federal highway fairy isn’t going to dump a bucket of money on that project. Earmarks that got those kinds of projects done for decades are now deemed evil, and Colorado’s federal lawmakers have shown no interest in touching the hot stove needed to cook up a bypass.

The argument that money could be shifted from the new Grand Avenue bridge to a bypass is false. The state has money earmarked for bridge replacement and Glenwood is in line for a chunk of it. We would be foolish to block that.

Stopping the bridge project shifts that money elsewhere in the state, not elsewhere in Glenwood. It delays any action for many years, at the very best, as a route is decided, environmental studies done and a vat of money is found.

No bypass route has been established other than long-ago discussion of Midland Avenue, which is off the table with more than 200 driveways now. No studies have been done, and the cost is simply unknown. But a look at road projects around the country gives credence to a CDOT ballpark guess of five to 10 times the bridge cost — $500 million to $1 billion.

By the way, many big U.S. road projects are being financed now with tolls. Do we really want to charge people who live north of the Colorado River a fee so they can go make beds and serve food in Aspen and Snowmass?

Bypass planning sets off a political brawl that likely leaves a town that has trouble making decisions with nothing close to consensus.

So let’s get behind something affordable that we can do now — before even that window of opportunity is lost.

Let’s build a pedestrian walkway over Grand at Eighth or Ninth. Let’s combine it with a welcome arch being proposed by the Downtown Development Association. The arch is a good idea that doesn’t go far enough. It could reach beyond cosmetics and help address downtown’s biggest problem.

This is exactly the kind of doable, affordable and helpful step the city can take to capitalize on a $115 million infrastructure investment.

A three-stage pedestrian bridge over rail right-of-way, Interstate 70 and the Colorado River at New Castle cost $2.5 million. A pedestrian walkway under Highway 82 at the Aspen Business Center cost $3.4 million, including a retention pond and other features not needed in Glenwood. CDOT can afford a pedestrian crossing in downtown Glenwood.

Yes, yes, the idea creates issues. Such a structure likely would need elevators to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It would need property owner cooperation, probably a public-private partnership. An open-air bridge that favors strolling may not work in the small footprint — it may have to be an enclosed skywalk between existing buildings. That could help in winter and create new retail opportunities.

But it’s needed and affordable. The time is now.

Basalt has two pedestrian tunnels under State Highway 82 and is on its way to getting a third.

A tunnel was just completed at the Aspen Business Center, and city leaders there want one at the Buttermilk RFTA stop.

Even the Rio Grande Trail has an overpass upvalley from Basalt.

Glenwood Springs pedestrians, on the other hand, can cross under the Grand Avenue bridge at Seventh Street or in an unkempt pathway at 12th Street that is too far from the bulk of pedestrian traffic to do any good and is too ratty to be a good option.

So let’s talk about how we might leverage a real project, a major investment in this town, and press city and state governments to make it easier and safer to cross the road.

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