Feds OK Grand Avenue bridge project
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Construction start: Early 2016
Estimated bridge closure: August to late November 2017
Federal highway officials have given the green light for the new state Highway 82/Grand Avenue bridge in Glenwood Springs, clearing the way for final bridge design and ultimately for construction to begin early next year.
The technical “finding of no significant impact” by the Federal Highway Administration was announced Tuesday. It concludes the federally required environmental assessment for the more than $110 million bridge project.
“(Colorado Department of Transportation) looks forward to continued coordination with stakeholders as we work to refine the urban design elements and aesthetic treatments during final design of the project,” said Joe Elsen, CDOT Region 3 program engineer, in a prepared statement.
The determination comes after a more than three-year-long analysis of the plan to build a realigned highway bridge spanning Seventh Street, the Union Pacific rail line, the Colorado River and Interstate 70.
Because the planned bridge replacement was deemed to not have a major impact, the federal agency determined a full environmental impact statement is not required.
One group opposed to the bridge project, Citizens to Save Grand Avenue, had considered legal action to try to force a full environmental impact statement. The group has argued that the bridge project should be scrapped in favor of planning for and eventually building a Highway 82 bypass around downtown Glenwood Springs.
However, given the estimated $40,000 cost to initiate a lawsuit, that is not likely to happen, group spokesman John Haines said Tuesday.
“With CDOT’s unwillingness to do anything to address our concerns, it forces us down the legal pathway,” Haines said. “That’s just too cost-prohibitive, and we didn’t feel that we wanted to put those kinds of dollars into the process.”
FULL STEAM AHEAD
Barring any other legal challenges, the Grand Avenue bridge project looks to be clear to move forward.
That includes completing the bridge design later this summer, obtaining final permitting and working with CDOT’s designated construction manager/general contractor, the joint venture of Granite and R.L. Wadsworth, on final pricing, Elsen said.
The new bridge is to follow an alignment from Grand Avenue on the south where the current bridge lands, but curving west to connect with a reconfigured I-70 interchange and the intersection of Sixth and Laurel streets, where a roundabout is to be constructed.
Early in the process, project planners rejected the option of refurbishing the existing, 62-year-old bridge, which is rated by the state as “functionally obsolete” due to its narrow width. The bridge also is showing signs of wear.
Based in part on input during community meetings attended by residents, business leaders and elected officials, the decision also was made early on to remove the bridge from the current straight-shot alignment from Grand Avenue to Pine Street near the Hotel Colorado.
The realigned bridge will free up a two-block section of Sixth Street that the city of Glenwood Springs and the Downtown Development Authority are eyeing for redevelopment into a more pedestrian-oriented business district.
The project also includes replacement of the existing pedestrian bridge over the Colorado River from Seventh Street to the Hot Springs area with an elevator tower on Seventh Street.
The official “decision document” points to the urban design and aesthetic treatments and various mitigation measures that have been developed during the planning process. It also provides responses to the questions and concerns submitted during the 60-day comment period late last year.
Glenwood Springs City Manager Jeff Hecksel said city officials are still reviewing responses to the city’s concerns, which mostly had to do with making sure the ultimate bridge design reflects the input provided by local officials during the three years of planning.
“I don’t expect any surprises and believe they have tried very hard to accommodate the city’s interests in this project,” Hecksel said.
“This is a huge milestone for the state, and for the city, as well,” Hecksel added. “There are a lot of opinions on the bridge and everything associated with it, but the state, from my perspective, has done a good job of capturing all those opinions and distilling them so that this can move forward.”
Mayor Mike Gamba echoed those sentiments.
“I’m excited that the project is moving forward, and overall I think it will have a positive impact to the city,” he said. “We have had some differences of opinion on things, but CDOT is and continues to be a good partner with us, and I think we will have a good project at the end of the day.”
Elsen, who is preparing to retire at the end of this month, said CDOT will continue to inform the public and local agencies on the progress leading up to and during the bridge construction.
That will include an extensive public information campaign as construction begins to inform the public about detours, transit alternatives, estimated travel delays during the bridge demolition/closure phase and general schedule updates.
Actual construction is not expected to begin until early 2016 and is anticipated to last approximately 24 to 30 months. That will include an approximately 90-day full bridge closure near the end of the process.
During the closure, a Highway 82 detour is planned to run from the I-70 Exit 114 in West Glenwood along Midland Avenue to Eighth Street, where a new temporary connection into downtown will carry traffic back onto Grand Avenue.
Elsen said some utility relocation work will take place this year leading up to the bridge construction. Early on, a temporary pedestrian walkway also will be attached to the existing bridge to make way for the removal of the existing pedestrian bridge so the new one can be built.
Most of the highway bridge construction will take place off line during the first year and a half of construction, meaning the existing bridge will continue to function. The full closure period and detour is expected from August to late November 2017.
The complete Federal Highway Administration decision document will be posted on the Grand Avenue Bridge project website. Printed copies will be available for viewing at the CDOT office on Centennial Street, Glenwood Springs City Hall and at the Glenwood Springs Public Library.
The Aspen City Council directed staff to move forward with the Burlingame early childhood education center, but decided it needs more information on the affordable housing units that are part of the schematic design at a work session Monday.