Glenwood considers river road to ease traffic on Grand Avenue
August 13, 2006
Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen looks at the problem of traffic jams on Grand Avenue and imagines a possible solution:Build a sunken, bermed, two-lane, limited-access bypass along the old railroad corridor near the Roaring Fork River.Christensen isn’t alone. Some other council members and city officials think the approach may be the most feasible means of getting Highway 82 traffic off Grand Avenue and reclaiming it as a city street.The idea is gaining ground partly through a process of elimination. Another possible use of the corridor, called cut-and-cover, would involve installing a sunken bypass and then putting a roof over it, which many see as being prohibitively expensive.Another option – a four-lane bypass along the corridor – is seen as politically unlikely.Christensen predicts that building “another four-lane slab or road through this town … isn’t going to happen.” But he believes a sunken, bermed bypass lined by a lot of trees “is something that people would get behind.”Currently there’s a recreation trail that runs along the rail corridor.At a meeting last month between council and the city’s Transportation Commission, fellow council members Joe O’Donnell and Dave Merritt both voiced interest in such a bypass, which would be accessible only at Interstate 70 and the south end of town.Transportation Commission chairman Larry Heinrichs said he is hearing a lot of interest in the idea, in contrast to the fear surrounding the possible exorbitant expense of a cut-and-cover approach.”Everybody just kind of groans when they think of the cost attached to that,” he said.Still, Heinrichs believes the cut-and-cover approach should at least be considered as an option, setting aside the question of cost long enough to look at whether it would be the most palatable way of running a highway down the corridor.Palatability has been a growing question surrounding the idea of building a bypass on the corridor, which now is used for a city recreation path. Last year, Dan Richardson, then a City Council member, urged council to put the idea to a public vote, and predicted voters would reject it.Council didn’t agree to the public vote, worrying it could confuse people and jeopardize the chances for passage that fall of a transportation tax, which ended up being narrowly approved. But a council majority also declined last year to specify the railroad corridor as the place where it wants Highway 82 moved. Some council members say it would be inappropriate to do that ahead of an environmental impact statement that is supposed to evaluate the range of alternatives for dealing with Highway 82 congestion.At the same time, they also argued that the city has made its intentions for the corridor clear over the years, through passage of a resolution favoring moving the highway, and acquisition of land along the corridor to help accommodate a bypass.This year, the state is conducting a precursor to an EIS called a corridor optimization study. It’s designed to identify the full range of options for improving traffic flow through the Highway 82 corridor. That mean it could consider things such as more mass transit, how to improve use of Midland Avenue as an alternate route, construction of the south bridge project to create a new access route in south Glenwood, and implementation of traffic-calming measures on Grand, along with use of the railroad corridor.Joe Elsen, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s program engineer for Garfield, Pitkin, Eagle and Lake counties, said he’s reluctant to talk about specific ideas such as a two-lane bypass on the railroad corridor now, before studies proceed through the EIS level.Christensen wonders whether CDOT would accept a two-lane Highway 82 in place of the four-lane highway now running down Grand. But he said he has received some indication from the state Transportation Commission that it is willing to be flexible on the matter.Elsen is curious what the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority would think about using the corridor for a bypass. RFTA, and not Glenwood Springs, owns the corridor.However, the city is a member of RFTA, noted the authority’s chief executive director, Dan Blankenship. He said RFTA’s board is aware the city may have general plans for part of the corridor at some point. Once the city makes a decision it will need to talk to the board “if RFTA has some part to play in making their plan work,” he said.”I’m sure they’re open to hearing what Glenwood Springs has in mind,” he said of the RFTA board.City engineer Mike McDill said the city needs to wait for now on what comes out of the current study. But he was encouraged by the amount of interest shown in the recent council meeting in the two-lane approach.”That seemed to be a concept that was pretty favorable,” he said.While the city can’t make any official decisions on its position about a bypass, it can’t ignore the question altogether. It is proceeding with planning and building a direct connection between Eighth Street and Midland Avenue, and needs to decide whether the design should accommodate the possibility of a bypass being built along the corridor in that area.It may have little choice but to make that accommodation even though a decision about whether to build a bypass there is years away.”I think we’re moving forward but we’re still a long, long way from resolving this issue,” Christensen said.