Some Glenwood Residents Unhappy With Proposed New Bridge

Sep 2, 2014

Replacing the Grand Avenue bridge in Glenwood Springs is at the top of the list for state highway projects next year. The state has allocated almost a hundred million dollars. As Aspen Public Radio’s Elise Thatcher reports as the project draws near, not everyone in Glenwood is happy about it.

John Haines and Hal Sundin are seated at a table in Peppo Nino Dining Room. The Italian restaurant’s door opens up to the side of the existing Grand Avenue Bridge. Sundin, who retired to Glenwood years ago, goes first.

“Grand Avenue’s businesses should be the community. And for residents of the community and tourists and so forth, instead of being a through highway for trucks and all kinds of heavy traffic.”

Sundin is worried the current proposal would only make it worse. The replacement Grand Avenue Bridge is a larger, wider version, with a swooping, seamless connection with Interstate 70. Tony Rosa voices similar concerns. He’s the owner of Peppo Nino’s. They all want the Colorado Department of Transportation, or CDOT, to hit the pause button. Again, Hal Sundin.

“They need to go back and make a complete study of all of the problems connected with Highway 82, and Glenwood Springs, and come up with an overall solution, and whatever they do now should be compatible with that, or they’re putting the cart before the horse.”

John Haines argues that could help make sure the new bridge doesn’t end up being a big waste of money. He’s founder of the group, Citizens to Save Grand Avenue. Haines and Sundin want the review to look at whether Highway 82 needs to be routed off Grand Avenue, and through another part of Glenwood Springs.

“If it needs to go here, then so be it. If it doesn’t need to go here, then let’s put it where it belongs.”

Like along Midland Avenue, on the West side of the Roaring Fork River. In the meantime, Haines wants CDOT rehab the existing bridge, to save money-- and he says a privately funded surveys shows there are lots of people in Glenwood who agree.

Joe Elsen is heading the project for CDOT, and is standing just upriver of the Colorado River in downtown Glenwood Springs.

“We’ve heard those concerns before. Even if you had a bypass or a relocation of 82 in a separate location, you still need four lanes.”

Elsen says there’s enough traffic within town to require the four lanes… And there’s a safety reason for replacing it.

“It’s a little tight, a lot of times you see vehicles straddling the center skip lines. I’ve met people in the community that, their youngsters would start learning how to drive, that they will not allow their son or daughter, to drive across the Grand Avenue Bridge.”

Add to that, the bridge is ten years past its due date, there are strips of concrete coming off its legs, and it’s vulnerable to erosion from the Colorado River. Elsen says the replacement bridge would mesh well if CDOT ends up re-routing Highway 82 in the coming years.

Glenwood Springs Mayor Leo McKinney says he understands that there may be a larger master plan that needs to be done for Glenwood Springs—but it likely will take a long time for the community to come to a consensus about it.

“If we really want to see a calamity, if something happens to that bridge, the whole region is in trouble. I mean, we can’t get everything over Independence Pass, obviously. Or McClure Pass.”

So Glenwood City Council has supported the project so far. And that team effort may end up being critical. In the coming weeks, CDOT will ask Glenwood Springs, Aspen, Pitkin County, and other local governments for help paying for a growing price tag for the new bridge. Skyrocketing materials and labor costs are making the tab go up. CDOT says its gotten more than three million so far of the estimated ten to fifteen million dollar shortfall.  If all goes as planned, construction would begin next spring.

Meanwhile, critics of the bridge, like John Haines, say they’ll file a formal complaint this fall or early next year.