Sundin column: A bridge going from one mess to the next
In a little more than 10 days, the Grand Avenue bridge will be taken out of service and all traffic entering Glenwood Springs (much of which is headed upvalley to Carbondale, El Jebel, Basalt and Aspen) and all commuter traffic coming into Glenwood Springs will be funneled onto the two lanes of Midland Avenue for the next three months.
We all need to take measures to prepare for the resulting traffic congestion and potential hour-long delays. In addition to the efforts to reduce the number of vehicles coming into and through Glenwood Springs, perhaps consideration should be given to placing porta-potties at convenient intervals along Midland and Interstate 70 west of the 114 Exit and along Grand Avenue and Colorado 82.
Drivers and their passengers should bring plenty of water to drink and food to eat while they wait — breakfast on the morning trip and supper on the evening trip. It would also be a good idea to bring something to read to while away the time. My suggestion is Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” You might actually get to finish this tome by the time the new bridge opens.
All joking aside, my concern is what we are going to be left with in return for three months of major inconvenience and severe impact on local businesses and restaurants. During the repaving of Grand Avenue a few years ago, half a dozen businesses failed even though there was nowhere near the traffic dislocation that will be created by this project. The vaunted Sixth Street business development will do nothing to sustain our city’s downtown business district. Instead it is likely to do quite the opposite.
In addition, completion of the new bridge will perpetuate pushing more and more cars and trucks onto Grand, which even CDOT acknowledges will become nonfunctional within a decade. Weekday evening rush-hour traffic on Colorado 82 is already backing up as much as 3 miles — even when there is no construction activity.
The Seventh Street beautification that accompanies the bridge project will definitely be an asset and will benefit that area’s businesses. However, that could have been done without the bridge replacement. It is true that the new bridge, being higher than the existing bridge, will let more light into the area below, but its higher profile will cut off much of the light from the Grand Avenue businesses between Seventh and Eighth streets.
My final comments pertain to the complicated reconfiguration of the Sixth and Laurel intersection into multiple roadways and a traffic circle that I have dubbed the Gordian Knot. This was touted as an improvement of the connectivity between downtown Glenwood Springs and the Hot Springs Pool and Vapor Cave area, which used to require a simple right-angle turn onto or from 6th Street at the north end of the bridge.
The new bridge will require curving west almost to Laurel Street, doubling the length of the drive from downtown. The return gets really complicated, requiring entering a traffic circle, finding the right exit (there are five) and merging with traffic exiting I-70 onto the new bridge, and is a quarter of a mile longer than the present route.
Finding Highway 6 & 24 from I-70 is even more confusing, requiring getting into the correct lane, turning left across oncoming traffic coming off the new bridge to get into the traffic circle, and finding the right exit. Traffic headed into town from Highway 6 & 24 will have to cross two westbound lanes coming off the bridge to get into the eastbound bridge lanes.
Seven traffic signals and five pedestrian crossings will interrupt the free flow of traffic at a half-dozen crossings in the system.
Finally, there is the safety issue of inbound traffic coming off I-70 on the two-lane “Los Angeles-style” freeway exit and descending steeply onto Grand Avenue at Eighth Street, creating a potentially serious hazard to cross-traffic and pedestrians, especially in winter.
Through trial and error, local residents will become familiar with the complexities of the new configuration, but for the poor out-of-town visitors, it will be a nightmare unless they have a GPS to guide them to where they want to go. It is quite apparent that CDOT’s only goal for the bridge project has been to build a new bridge for Colorado 82 traffic, leaving the resulting adverse consequences and future Grand Avenue traffic congestion for Glenwood Springs’ residents, businesses and visitors.
Hal Sundin’s As I See It column appears monthly.