Glenwood gets preview of bridge traffic snarl
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Glenwood Springs residents and upvalley commuters have gotten an early taste of just how bad traffic might be when the Grand Avenue bridge is torn down in 2017.
When that happens, drivers will either have to take the official detour from Interstate 70 Exit 114 in West Glenwood to Midland Avenue, then to Eighth Street, reconnecting with Grand Avenue downtown; or they will continue on Midland to 27th Street, planning to get back on Highway 82 at the south edge of town.
“People are already diverting to Midland,” said Bruce Bell, president of the Sopris Elementary School PTA, which has led to traffic jams around 27th Street and Midland Avenue at school drop-off time in the morning. “There have been instances of road rage and passing on double yellow lines,” he said.
The problem, which surfaced as crews doing utility work tied to the bridge project have at times closed I-70’s Exit 116 the past couple of weeks, was particularly acute March 15 and 16.
“(March 16) was about as bad as it can be,” when slick roads and accidents mixed with the added traffic to create about 90 minutes of complete gridlock, Police Chief Terry Wilson said at a meeting Monday at City Hall. Traffic on March 15, when drivers apparently were unsure if 116 was open, probably is more representative of what the detour months will be like, he said.
In an effort to help, City Council on Thursday decided to ban left turns from 27th Street onto Grand Avenue during the morning rush, along with other changes. That change is expected to take effect in about two weeks, once signs are made and placed.
The meeting Monday at City Hall involved Bell, Sopris Elementary Principal Kathy Whiting, transportation officials and city officials including Wilson and Public Works Director Terry Partch.
They agreed that many drivers, knowing that Exit 116 eastbound is being closed some of the time, are getting off I-70 at West Glenwood to avoid the risk of not being able to get off at the main Highway 82 exit at mile 116.
“Drivers are like lemmings,” Wilson said. “Once they get channeled into a new pattern, they don’t change back” without a major effort by authorities.
But the bigger issue, Partch, Wilson and others agreed, is that last week’s troubles point to what might happen in late 2017 when all traffic must take the West Glenwood exit.
“In effect, the detour is already in place,” Partch said.
Acting City Manager Drew Gorgey said, “We’re headed toward a larger discussion on the 20 percent reduction” in traffic through Glenwood that the Colorado Department of Transportation hopes to achieve to make it so it takes only 20 extra minutes to get through town during the bridge closure.
Every possible step, from getting employers to allow telecommuting and having employees work in offices north of the Colorado River to requiring that city employees carpool, bike or walk is essential, Gorgey said. He added that he and Tom Newland, communications manager for the Grand Avenue bridge project, will be meeting soon with Aspen and Pitken County officials to get them on board with traffic reduction plans.
Sopris Elementary’s start time and traffic just north of the school has provided an early case in point of the need to develop thorough plans.
Whiting, the school’s principal, asked Partch if the school should consider different start times.
“It’s really worthwhile to explore,” Partch said. A 30-minute change, earlier or later, could make a huge difference, Partch and Wilson told Whiting.
In addition, if the Roaring Fork School District can set up drop-off points for students who could then be escorted on foot by adults, it could help alleviate traffic congestion, Partch said. She added that the city hopes to reset pieces of the old Grand Avenue pedestrian bridge to cross the Roaring Fork River at 14th Street, making it easier for students to walk to school on either side of the river.
Wilson said the “one-parent, one-kid” syndrome at school drop-off time “is an absolute epidemic,” which prompted Bell, the PTA president, to say he would organize an effort to get Sopris parents to carpool.
Gorgey and Partch assured Bell that the south Glenwood and citywide concerns had their attention.
“I don’t feel your pain because I wasn’t sitting in the car for two hours, but I get it,” Gorgey told Bell.
In fact, City Council took two actions Thursday:
• Signs will be installed as soon as they are made prohibiting left turns from eastbound 27th Street onto South Grand between 7 and 9 a.m. weekdays.
• The city plans construct a “mini” roundabout this summer at 27th Street and South Grand Avenue, doing away with the traffic light altogether. Officials are seeking grant money to accomplish that. Partch said the left-turn ban would become moot at that point.
Wilson promised the council stepped-up patrols on Midland Avenue between Eighth and 27th streets after one area resident complained about an increase in large trucks, including semis, using that route since bridge construction started. That stretch of Midland Avenue has a 10,000-pound limit.
Bell welcomed that news. “A police car makes people polite,” he said.
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