CDOT to ‘get it right’ on Glenwood bridge overhaul
September 26, 2011
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Colorado Department of Transportation is poised to launch an impact study and a “Cadillac public involvement process” as it draws up plans to widen and possibly replace the Grand Avenue Bridge in Glenwood Springs.
Using funds from the Colorado Bridge Enterprise, CDOT has budgeted $59 million for planning and construction, making the Grand Avenue Bridge the second-priciest project on the agency’s list of 119 bridge projects statewide to be pursued under a $300 million bond issue.
If all goes as planned, the planning process will run from fall 2011 to fall 2013, followed by a full year to develop the final bridge design, with construction running for up to two a half years, from early 2015 until fall of 2017.
No one knows at this point whether the bridge would be upgraded, repaired and widened, or if it would be replaced entirely, said Joe Elsen, CDOT’s program engineer for the four-county Region III and a 28-year resident of Glenwood.
Regardless, at least two lanes of traffic will be open across a bridge at the present location throughout the construction period, Elsen said.
“We structure our projects with incentives for the contractor to get done quickly. But we realize we have to have some level of passage regardless,” said Elsen.
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The Grand Avenue Bridge is targeted in the Colorado Bridge Enterprise because it is too narrow to be carrying four lanes of traffic. Built in 1953 as a two-lane bridge with shoulders, it was eventually converted to four lanes.
And while the bridge structure is not considered unsafe, it is nearly 10 years past its 50-year design life.
CDOT began work on the project earlier this year by seeking contractors to work on planning and engineering, and by creating a community leadership team of city government and CDOT representatives.
Jacobs Engineering of Denver has been selected from among seven proposals to carry out the environmental assessment process over the next two years, Elsen said. Jacobs may be selected to do the final bridge design as well.
Jacobs is the same firm that is handling the design and community involvement for the proposed South Bridge project.
On the leadership team, former mayor Bruce Christensen and former council member Shelley Kaup are representing the city’s interests.
Once Jacobs is under contract, CDOT will “ramp up the process,” Elsen said.
The two-fold planning effort will, on one hand, evaluate the existing bridge from a structural engineering standpoint to determine whether it should be repaired or replaced. On the other hand, the effort will entail a “Cadillac public involvement process,” Elsen said, to evaluate the permanent impacts of a new bridge design and the temporary impacts of bridge construction.
“We really need to get this right. We will have a lot of conversations about it and a lot of input,” Elsen said.
The Grand Avenue Bridge, which marks the north end of state Highway 82, spans North River Street, Interstate 70, the Colorado River, the BNSF Railway Co. mainline and Seventh Street.
It casts its shadow on the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool and on the city’s historic downtown, and abuts the Hotel Colorado and the north Glenwood commercial district.
It is of key importance to the life and function of Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork Valley.
Earlier this month, the current Glenwood Springs City Council took a first run at passing a resolution stating the city government’s intent to cooperate fully in the process. It immediately came under fire from critics who argued the city would be forever giving up its opportunity to build a Highway 82 bypass on the Rio Grande rail corridor.
But Elsen, Bruce Christensen and Councilman Mike Gamba have all said the Colorado Bridge Enterprise funding can only be used to repair or replace a “functionally deficient” bridge in its exact same location. The money can’t be used to build a bridge in a different location downstream.
Christensen noted that even if the bridge money could be moved and a bypass developed – an option he does not favor – then CDOT would also be handing ownership of an aging bridge in need of costly repairs over to the city government.
A bypass could cost $500 million or more, he said, and the need for a bypass in Glenwood Springs pales in comparison to the highway and bridge infrastructure needs on the Front Range.
“An alternate route is decades away from being a priority at the state level,” he said. “Our problems are very small in the context of state transportation issues.”
Meanwhile, CDOT is coming to the city with an offer to fully fund repair or replacement of the Grand Avenue Bridge, Christensen said.
“I’ve seen some schematics that show this as a fabulous entrance to Glenwood Springs,” Christensen said. Some designs include a suspension bridge or an arch bridge, he said.
“CDOT is sincerely trying to work with the community to build a project that is good for everybody,” he said.
“If we can work with CDOT and not throw up brick walls, then I think they won’t just take a textbook off the shelf and say it must look like this. They could narrow the lanes from the standard just a little bit, eliminate or have very narrow shoulders, and we’d be getting rid of that scary walkway attached to the bridge. It could be built to be just a few feet wider than it is now. I think we can do it where it isn’t this nightmare that people fear.”