New Grand Avenue Bridge on track for early opening
Cue the champagne bottles and confetti, the new Grand Avenue Bridge is expected to open to traffic somewhat earlier than originally planned, at a time to be determined toward the beginning of November, according to project officials.
The possible early opening would be well ahead of the targeted Nov. 17 date that marks the end of the scheduled 95-day bridge closure period while the final section of the new bridge is being built.
It’s all still largely weather dependent, cautioned Tom Newland, project public information officer for the Colorado Department of Transportation. But a combination of favorable weather thus far through October, and the contractor’s rapid progress on the critical path work utilizing a near-constant 24/7 construction schedule, has the bridge on track for an initial opening the first part of November, he said.
“The actual opening day is dependent on weather and other project conditions,” Newland said. “We will know more by next week, but we are looking at the beginning of November.”
Another critical concrete pour between Eighth Street and the south bridge abutment is scheduled to take place in the coming week. Expansion joints where the south end of the span begins also need to be completed.
So, a lot hinges on that work falling into place, Newland said.
Perhaps better yet for the sake of Colorado 82 commuters and cross-town travelers who have been stuck in detour hell since Aug. 14, the latest plan calls for the critical highway link over the Colorado River to Interstate 70 to be open to three “reversible” traffic lanes initially, rather than just two lanes, officials also announced Tuesday.
In that configuration, two lanes will be dedicated to southbound 82 and Grand Avenue traffic in the morning, alternating to two northbound traffic lanes during the busy afternoon and evening hours.
The center lane of the bridge will alternate depending on the time of day during that initial opening, while construction continues on the fourth lane, concrete barriers, light pole bases and bridge railings, Newland said.
Project officials expect to open the bridge to a full four lanes of traffic about two weeks after the initial opening. Again, that will be weather dependent, he said.
New traffic signals at the I-70 interchange will be functional at the time of the partial bridge opening, as will the new roundabout at Sixth and Laurel streets, Newland said.
The early opening would qualify the general contractor for the $126 million bridge replacement project, Granite/RLW Joint Venture, for a $25,000-per-day bonus for as many as 10 days, or $250,000.
The bonus for bringing the bridge on line ahead of the Nov. 17 target date was built into the contract when the project commenced in January 2016. Had the project fallen behind schedule, the same amount of penalty could be assessed, unless it was out of the contractor’s hands.
Once a date is determined, the initial bridge opening will occur in the middle of the night when traffic is light, Newland said.
Almost immediately, the Colorado 82 detour route that makes use of Midland Avenue from Interstate 70 exit 114, and a combination of Eighth and Ninth streets and Colorado Avenue downtown, will be phased out.
Midland, Eighth and Grand will revert to normal use, and Wulfsohn Road will be reopened to regular traffic. The merge point near 27th Street and the exit-only lane on I-70 at exit 114 will be removed.
The downtown “square-about” section may take a little more time to dismantle, Newland said. That will eventually include removal of the temporary traffic signal at Eighth and Colorado and the chain-link barriers blocking access to Eighth from Pitkin and School streets. Barriers blocking access to Midland from Red Mountain Drive also will be removed.
Eventually, the intersection at Eighth and Colorado will return to a four-way stop with pedestrian crossings at all four corners.
CDOT and its contractors are now working with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and the city of Glenwood Springs on a phase-out plan for the free bus services that have been in place since the detour began.
Free service along RFTA’s Hogback route, and an expansion of that service to Parachute, has served to reduce traffic on the detour route by encouraging commuters who can take the bus to do so.
RFTA and the city also have been running free shuttles along three separate routes both north and south of the Colorado River.
Some of the free services are expected to continue at least until Thanksgiving, after which RFTA will need to shift its focus to up valley skier services. At some point, the city also will revert to its former Ride Glenwood fare routes.
“Input and assistance from the city and RFTA is critical to providing a safe and organized move out of the detour and back to normalized conditions,” Newland said.
Even after the bridge opens to traffic, a fair amount of construction work will continue on and around the bridge, including aesthetic features, extension of the I-70 eastbound on ramp and removal of the construction platforms, or causeways, in the river.
The concrete driving surface on the bridge itself also is temporary. A final surface will be completed in the spring when warm weather returns, Newland said. The bridge project is to be fully completed by June 30 of next year.
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The steep Jail Trail that leads into downtown Aspen is getting a better grade to address safety concerns and make it easier for people to use.