Employers, employees prep for bridge closure

Jul 25, 2017

Credit Aspen Public Radio

The Grand Avenue Bridge in Glenwood Springs connects I-70 with the Roaring Fork Valley; it’s closing on Aug. 14 at 12:01 a.m.

In the 95 days it’s projected it will take to build the new bridge, the 24,000 vehicles crossing the Colorado River each day will be rerouted onto a two-lane road.


On a recent Wednesday afternoon, a small crowd  gathered at Aspen City Hall to discuss the closure. CDOT’s Tracy Trulove presented a simple message: Drive more, wait more.


If enough people carpool and ride the bus, it might take 15 minutes longer than normal to get past the detour. If driving habits don’t change, it could take more than an hour.  


Nichole Heronemus, who was at the meeting, said that prospect is “terrifying.” She works at Aspen’s Chamber of Commerce, but lives in New Castle and takes the bus each way.


“Right now I have two and a half hours where I’m not at work and I’m not at home so the thought of making that three and a half hours really doesn’t sound appealing,” she said.


That said, Heronemus has options if the traffic gets really bad. She could telecommute more often, or make longer work days when she’s in Aspen. Not everyone has flexibility like this.


Mark Gould, CEO of Gould Construction, has crews working all around Aspen. More than 30 of his workers cross the bridge daily.


“We owe them as best a chance as we can to get them home at night,” Gould said.

To make this happen, he’s shuttling his workers to Carbondale, where they’ll get on some e-bikes he’s bought, which are bikes with some electric power to help them along. They’ll ride down the Rio Grande Trail, across the new pedestrian bridge in Glenwood. They’ll then get back in a van and head to New Castle, where their cars are parked. Van to e-bike to van to cars, day in and day out.


During the day, Gould’s team will have to move the bikes from Two Rivers Park back to Carbondale and the vans from Carbondale back to Two Rivers Park, so everything is  repositioned for the following day.


“The logistics are incredible,” he said. If time is money, this sounds pretty inefficient. Gould said it’s going to “destroy” his bottom line. What’s more, he considered lots of options before arriving at this one. He was thinking about chartering a plane to fly between Rifle and Aspen.


Further down the valley, big employers are promising to help ease the traffic. Colorado Mountain College claims its employees in the area plan to reduce their time in a car by 35 percent by biking, riding the bus and so on. One employee is even planning on making a habit of kayaking to work.


The Internet is also what will keep more of CMC’s students and faculty off the road. CMC’s public information officer, Debbie Crawford, said enrollment in online courses has more than doubled. Of course, the school will still feel the impacts of the bridge closure.


“We’ve just gotta be, we’ve gotta be flexible,” Crawford said.  


Collaboration is also key. The Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) is renting 40 apartments at one of their properties, Marolt Ranch. They’re extending the offer specifically to employers impacted by the bridge closure.


Pat Hinch of APCHA described the accommodations as modest. Future occupants, he said, should pack like they’re going on an extended vacation. “Bring your hotplate with you, your sleeping bag, your towels, your linens,” he said.


Living there could be a vacation from gridlock, anyway.