Glenwood council supports new Grand Avenue bridge, ignoring calls from citizens who want to stop the project
Renewed calls from Citizens to Save Grand Avenue and its supporters to put the planned Grand Avenue bridge replacement question to an advisory vote failed to change the minds of Glenwood Springs City Council members.
In fact, bolstered by comments supportive of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s plans to replace the 61-year-old structure with a new, wider, realigned bridge that would, for now, keep Highway 82 on Grand Avenue, the council dug in its heels even more.
“We have a state highway running down the center of town, and it’s been there since I was a kid,” Councilman Stephen Bershenyi said at the Thursday City Council meeting in reference to the Citizens to Save Grand Avenue’s position that a highway bypass should be studied and built instead of replacing the current bridge across the Colorado River.
“We as a city don’t have the ability or money to change that,” Bershenyi said. “We’re going to build a new bridge, folks, and it’s going to last another 75 years. …Our job is to make sure it’s the best bridge it can be and that it is built with the least amount of disruption as we can have.”
If, in addition to that project, the community can come together to decide where best to locate a bypass or other alternative routes as a way to ease traffic congestion on Grand Avenue, “then a bypass will happen,” he said.
Bershenyi and other council members rejected the notion that the city’s elected leaders don’t have Glenwood Springs’ best interests in mind in supporting the bridge project.
“I think there is a general lack of information on what the city is doing about transportation,” Councilman Mike Gamba said, pointing to the city’s work to update its long-range transportation plan.
That plan, which is still in draft form, identifies more than 100 improvements to make it easier to get around town.
“That includes looking at a bypass,” Gamba said. “If we say ‘no’ to CDOT (on the bridge project), that money goes away and we’re stuck with a bridge that is dilapidated and too narrow.”
Citizens to Save Grand Avenue has threatened a legal challenge to state and federal transportation officials’ recently completed environmental review for the bridge project. The group also contends that a local advisory vote is needed to gauge the public’s sentiment.
“There’s no good reason why we don’t have this on the ballot for every citizen in the community to vote on,” Cheryl Cain said. “This is the biggest project that will happen in Glenwood, and the citizens deserve to vote this up or down.”
John Haines, chairman of the residents’ group, referenced comments by a CDOT official earlier this week that two-thirds of the 175 comments received in response to the bridge study that was released last fall were supportive of the project.
Haines said that pales in comparison with the results of a mail poll his group did two years ago, in which a majority of Glenwood residents responding said they want to halt the bridge project in favor of completing a bypass study.
Citizens to Save Grand Avenue also has argued that the bridge replacement, as now planned, should undergo a full environmental-impact-statement analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.
But an advertisement placed in the Post Independent by the group encouraging people to show up at the Thursday night City Council meeting to state their opinion on the bridge plans also drew supporters of the project.
Among the organizations submitting comments to CDOT in favor of the bridge was the board of directors for the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.
“The chamber board is in support of moving quickly on this bridge project,” chamber CEO Marianne Virgili said. “This is an exciting possibility for our town. Yes, there will be challenges during the construction, but that will just test our ingenuity.”
Once the bridge is built, Virgili predicted it would lead to a revitalized downtown with “skyrocketing” commercial property values.
Father-and-son civil engineers Chuck and Jeff Peterson, of Glenwood Springs, also said the bridge project is worth supporting.
“I’m here to ask you to move the bridge project forward and not allow it to be debated for another 10 or 20 years,” Jeff Peterson said.
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