Garfield County agrees to financial support for Grand Avenue bridge
September 15, 2014
Despite some concerns about escalating costs to build the new Grand Avenue bridge in Glenwood Springs and the impact on future county projects, a split Garfield County Board of Commissioners agreed Monday to contribute a requested $3 million over three years to help complete the new bridge.
"I do think this project is in the best interests of Glenwood Springs and Garfield County," said Commissioner Tom Jankovsky. "If we don't get it done now, the next time it comes around it will be when the bridge is failing and it has to be replaced."
Jankovsky said he is concerned that the project costs have grown to an estimated $10 million to $15 million beyond the Colorado Bridge Enterprise budget of $99 million to pay for the newly aligned highway bridge and accompanying new pedestrian bridge.
"I have had some people call and ask, 'what are you doing here?'" Jankovsky said. "Definitely, there are some red flags going up for me as a supporter of this project, both in terms of cost and the down time, and what that is going to do to our community."
Bridge project officials are now anticipating a 90-day period during the two-year bridge and Interstate 70 interchange construction, targeted for spring 2017, when the existing bridge would be removed and Highway 82 traffic diverted to a detour from West Glenwood and through downtown via a temporary Eighth Street connection.
Should the funding shortfall not be met, Jankovsky said he is also concerned that the Bridge Enterprise money intended for the Glenwood Springs project could be diverted to the Denver I-70 viaduct or some other Front Range project.
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Jankovsky was joined by Commissioner Mike Samson in support of dedicating the county's $3 million contribution to help pay for the pedestrian bridge portion of the larger Grand Avenue Bridge Project. Samson said his constituents in Rifle rely on a safe, efficient way to get onto Highway 82 en route to upvalley jobs.
"We have been a leader in a lot of ways, and this is a way to be a leader again," Samson said. "I just think this is something that has to be done."
At the same time, Samson called on Colorado Department of Transportation officials to increase their ask of Aspen and Pitkin County, saying they "will benefit greatly from this new bridge, and they need some more skin in the game."
Project officials have been venturing into new territory with the Grand Avenue Bridge Project, seeking local government support to make up the anticipated funding gap.
Last week, Glenwood Springs City Council tentatively agreed to $3 million, also spread out over three years, contingent on an agreement with CDOT that the new bridge include the various design and aesthetic elements sought through three years of planning efforts and input from local residents, business owners and elected officials. Those features have added to the cost of the bridge.
Recently, neighboring jurisdictions that also rely on getting visitors and commuters up and down Highway 82 have been asked to contribute to the bridge project as well.
CDOT officials were before Aspen City Council Monday evening with a request for $300,000. Pitkin County commissioners have also said they support the project and recognize the value of the bridge to the upvalley tourist economy. However, they also said they may not be able to come up with the $500,000 asked of the county.
Eagle County, which extends into the Basalt/El Jebel portion of the Roaring Fork Valley, has also been asked to contribute $300,000, and has shown initial support as well.
Garfield County Commissioner John Martin voted against Jankovsky and Samson in giving county support for the effort, saying the state Bridge Enterprise program has adequate bonding authority to leverage the Grand Avenue bridge costs.
"It's not that I'm against or for this project, but the state does have the ability to pay for this," Martin said. "If this project is of such great state interest, they should be able to do that."
Martin said he worried how the diversion of $3 million in county money to a state project would impact the ability to fund future county road and bridge and other capital improvements projects.
"I know that the governor (John Hickenlooper) and Mr. Hunt (CDOT director Don Hunt) want to maximize the use of these Bridge Enterprise dollars, but it's not mandatory that any community or local government pay for any state infrastructure," he said.
Martin also worried about diverting $3 million away from future county road and bridge and other capital projects; a concern shared by the other two commissioners despite their support for the Grand Avenue bridge funding.
"I just think we have extended ourselves far enough, and it's time to say let's get our own project done and save some money for the future," Martin said.
During the meeting with the Garfield commissioners, CDOT Program Engineer Joe Elsen clarified that much of the estimated increase in the bridge cost is associated with the planning, design and property acquisition associated with the project, rather than estimated construction costs.
"Some of the uncertainty is in the land acquisition, for which we don't even have appraisals yet," Elsen said.
The planned new alignment for the bridge, crossing from Grand Avenue on the south to the intersection of Laurel and Sixth streets north of the river and I-70, will require that CDOT acquire the Glenwood Shell station from owner Greg Beightel. An offer is expected to be made this fall, Elsen said during a presentation to Glenwood Springs and Garfield County officials last week.