Cost controls are focus in Grand Ave. Bridge planning
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Although the most commonly referred-to cost to build a new Grand Avenue Bridge since state transportation planners began working on the project three years ago has been around $60 million, that doesn’t include the costs that have been piling up during that time.
Glenwood Springs City Councilman Dave Sturges, during a recent work session with Colorado Department of Transportation officials, questioned a $98.5 million total cost estimate that has been published on CDOT’s website for the Highway 82 bridge project.
“That is accurate,” said Joe Elsen, CDOT Region 3 program engineer and one of the lead project officials. “That is our best estimate at this time and includes the cost to go through the environmental review, right-of-way acquisition and other pre-construction costs.”
Actual construction of the bridge and related infrastructure still is budgeted for $60 million, which was the amount set aside in the state’s special Bridge Enterprise fund at the start of the planning process.
Even that figure is more likely around $70 million, when factoring in the usual 20 percent contingency for cost overruns, Elsen said.
What project planners don’t want to do is surpass the $100 million threshold, which would trigger the need to prepare a new financial plan and to identify potential new funding sources outside the Colorado Bridge Enterprise fund, he said.
“We are talking a lot about the need to control costs,” Elsen said. “We are committed to senior management to try to keep it under $100 million.”
There’s also mounting pressure on project officials to stick to the latest project schedule, which already has been revised somewhat since the original timeline.
At this point, plans for the realigned highway bridge from Grand Avenue on the south side of the Colorado River to a reconfigured Interstate 70 Exit 116 interchange at Sixth and Laurel, as well as a companion new pedestrian bridge, are at 30 percent of engineered design.
The latest project schedule calls for additional design element detail later this month, which will move the project to 60 percent design by June 6, project engineer Craig Gaskill said during the April 3 meeting with City Council.
The goal is to get to 90 percent design by Nov. 4, followed by a required public comment period, final design and a formal decision as part of the Environmental Assessment by February. Project construction would begin soon thereafter, if that schedule can be adhered to.
“There is always a concern that if we have delays, or if we go over budget, we won’t have a project,” Gaskill said, adding that the project schedule is less flexible now than it was earlier in the process.
Colorado Bridge Enterprise representative Matt Cirulli said at that same meeting that there is pressure from the Colorado Transportation Commission to move forward, as well as concerns about the project growing in scope.
“That happens on any project this big that has a major impact on the community, as this one does. And they understand that,” Cirulli also said.
Some of that was known going in, while much of it didn’t come to light during the project planning, Elsen said during a separate interview.
For instance, when the preferred bridge alignment was chosen over remaining on the existing alignment, “we knew that was going to be more expensive,” Elsen said.
Planners also knew they would need to accommodate pedestrian and bicycle access, which is standard policy in any state transportation project. What they didn’t realize until later in the process was that a new, stand-alone pedestrian bridge was not only a desired option but a necessity for relocating utility lines during the main bridge construction, Elsen said.
That also added onto the costs, as did the various design features that will tie in with the city’s plans for new pedestrian plaza areas beneath the bridge along Seventh Street. There are also additional costs associated with reconfiguring the Sixth and Laurel intersection, including a proposed roundabout.
Elsen said some aspects of the larger project could qualify for funding outside the Bridge Enterprise Fund, including a plan to lengthen and improve the I-70 eastbound on-ramp from Exit 116.
That’s a safety improvement project that has been in CDOT’s long-range plans for some time, he said.
“It makes sense to take care of those things while we already have a construction zone,” he said, though additional funding likely would be sought through the normal transportation planning region prioritization process.
City Council members said that, when it comes to special design features meant to fit in with the historic downtown character, they’d rather see an emphasis placed on the pedestrian bridge rather than the highway bridge.
“If you can simplify the main automobile bridge to save costs and put that toward the pedestrian bridge, that would seem to make sense,” Councilor Stephen Bershenyi said. “The auto bridge is just a way to get into town, where the pedestrian bridge is the experience of getting around town.”
Councilor Ted Edmonds agreed the pedestrian bridge should be the focus of any aesthetic treatments.
“One thing we do not want to see is for this project to get delayed to the point where it doesn’t get funded and we have to live with the current bridge for the next 10 years, or until it falls in the river,” he said.
Although the existing bridge is structurally sound, it has been deemed to be functionally deficient due to its narrow width and is showing signs of deterioration from its more than 60-year age, according to CDOT officials.
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