A Case For a New Bridge . . . Now

Thank you to Chris McGovern for forwarding comments of Mr. Dick Prosence to my February 20th post https://ourtownglenwoodsprings.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/hot-under-the-collar/

Since I am neither an expert or an engineer, I put these comments out to several engineers and technical types in our community and received the following response from Michael Gamba, a professional engineer and land surveyor as well as a current member of City Council. This is his response (in italics):

*NEPA requires a comparison of ALL alternatives where a major federal action is undertaken.

Agreed, I believe that all alternatives to replacing the bridge were included in the evaluation, but only those alternatives that met the stated project purpose and need, which is appropriate.

*CDOT is limiting the alternatives being investigated.

Yes, as noted in the response above some alternatives that were outside of the stated project purpose and need were excluded from the evaluation. The stated project purpose is “to provide a safe, secure, and effective connection from downtown Glenwood Springs across the Colorado River and I-70 to the historic Glenwood Hot Springs area.” For example, this purpose does exclude the option of evaluating a bridge from the I-70 116 interchange across the Colorado River and RR to the confluence area, which is the preferred route for most bypass proponents. The confluence area is clearly not downtown Glenwood Springs, therefore it was excluded from consideration.

The other reason that this option was not considered is that it is my understanding that this option would be excluded by the funding source, which is the Colorado Bridge Enterprise Fund (CBE). The purpose of the CBE is to finance, repair, reconstruct and replace bridges designated as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, and rated “poor.” Therefore, the planning, design and construction of this option would require another funding source, which is most likely not available at this time or in the reasonably near future.

*The existing bridge has been there for nearly 60 years. Maintenance is often required on old bridges.

Agreed, but I’m not sure what the point is. This bridge is rated “poor” by the CBE and as such qualifies for repair or replacement with funds from the CBE. If it was not rated poor, the funds for the repair (or replacement) would have to come from some other source. Regardless of the fact that this bridge is 60 years old, it also has a significant number of physical or geometric deficiencies such as: 9.5 foot lane widths (code is 12-feet wide); vehicular clearance over 7th street; clearance over the railroad; potential for scour around the footings in the river; and the configuration of the bridge piers adjacent to the I-70 on-ramp and off-ramp at the 116 interchange which results in deficient ramp lengths and configurations and presents a very serious safety issue. The replacement of this bridge will correct all of these issues.

If the point of this comment is to infer that instead of replacing the old bridge, we should just continue to maintain it, then that is an issue that can be debated. In that regard, the “no build” option is still on the table, and will be considered in the NEPA process.

*If there is a scour problem or crumbling concrete, work on those problems.

This point appears to simply be a continuation of the previous comment, and I believe is sufficiently addressed with the previous comment.

*Locking 40,000-50,000 vehicles (vehicle trips) onto Grand Avenue including 4,000-5,000 dump trucks, gasoline tankers or other hazardous loads onto Grand Avenue is the overriding issue.

I believe that this comment is provided as intentional misinformation on the part of Mr. Prosence. Whether we replace the Grand Avenue Bridge or not DOES NOT PRECLUDE the possibility of a future bypass, alternate route, or the construction of additional city streets and roads that will provide more interconnectivity and reduce traffic congestion. Furthermore, the point about 4,000 to 5,000 dump trucks, gasoline tankers or other hazardous loads being on Grand Avenue is fairly ignorant in my opinion. Does Mr. Prosence think that it is better to put all of these types of vehicles on the Roaring Fork River? Or perhaps on Midland Avenue through a residential neighborhood? Both of which are the only reasonable alignments for a future bypass. Whether we build a bypass or not, these types of vehicles will still be going through the City of Glenwood Springs. There is no alignment or location in Glenwood where a bypass can be constructed that isn’t going to significantly affect some portion of our community.

*When I was involved in moving the railroad yards across the river, the subject of inadequate clearance never came up, not once.

I suspect that this may very well be true, but again I’m not sure what the point is. I don’t think that the clearance over the railroad is the over-riding geometric or functional deficiency that is pushing the reconstruction of the bridge. I don’t believe that there is any single design deficiency that is necessarily the “over-riding” concern, but collectively the replacement of the bridge does resolve a fairly significant number of issues as noted above.

Personally, if I were to rate the current deficiencies in order of those of greatest concern, I would put the narrow travel lanes as number one. The width of these lanes do not allow larger vehicles such as semi-trucks, RVs, and buses to safely drive in a single lane. In fact, due to the narrowness of the lanes, it is the current RFTA policy to prohibit their buses from using the Grand Avenue bridge. This results in a reduced efficiency of our public transportation system.

The issue that I believe presents the second greatest concern is the proximity of the bridge piers to the I-70 ramps. To my knowledge no one has yet been seriously injured or died in an accident due to the reduced length of the ramps, but I have heard many anecdotes from individuals describing very close calls. I do believe that it is just a matter of time before someone entering I-70 eastbound from the 116 interchange is injured or killed due to the insufficient length of the on-ramp.

*If it such a big deal, why wasn’t it brought up then?

I personally don’t think that it is a big deal (see comment above).

*The narrow bridge has functioned for over 50 years.

The bridge was originally constructed in 1953 as a two lane bridge with sidewalks on both sides of the bridge. Under this configuration, the width of the driving lanes were not reduced from the code at that time. In 1969, the sidewalks were removed and the bridge was reconfigured into its current configuration with four sub-standard driving lanes. Therefore, the bridge has only existed in its current configuration for 42 years, not 50 years. While the bridge in this configuration has functioned, I would contend that it is certainly a matter of opinion as to whether it has functioned well. I am personally aware of many instances where vehicles have struck the guard rails, have lost side mirrors due to close calls with oncoming vehicles, and have impacted either on-coming vehicles or vehicles travelling in the same direction due to the sub-standard driving lane widths. Additionally, as noted above, larger vehicles cannot safely drive in a single lane, therefore the functional capacity of the bridge is impaired.

*Why not delay it’s replacement until these other issues are resolved.

The short answer here is that if we wait to do anything in Glenwood Springs that starts to correct our transportation infrastructure problems until such time as we have a bypass, then from a realistic standpoint we will never do anything. Even though the significant majority of the citizens with whom I have spoken recognize the obvious logic of pursuing this opportunity to replace our decrepit, deficient Grand Avenue Bridge with one that can add many benefits to the city, this project alone has generated a not insignificant amount of controversy, to which Mr. Prosence is contributing. The long answer is described below.

Imagine what would happen if at tonight’s city council meeting, the council voted to approve a resolution adopting the railroad corridor along the east bank of the Roaring Fork River as our preferred bypass alignment, and we were going to start the process through CDOT and the Feds to pursue funding for the design and construction of the bypass. If everyone thinks that the bridge and the Access Control Plan are generating a lot of controversy now, the current public outcry would look like a blip compared to the angry mobs that would descend on Town Hall to oppose such an action. It’s my personal observation that the citizenry in Glenwood is irrevocably split on the issue of the bypass. Approximately one-third want to build the bypass along the east bank of the Roaring Fork River and the railroad corridor, approximately one-third want to build the bypass along Midland Avenue, and approximately one-third want to build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything. And in my experience almost everyone is very passionate about their individual position on the issue. Therefore, any solution decided by any sitting council is going to enrage approximately two-thirds of all citizens.

But, let’s go a little further into this fantasy. Let’s assume that council decides where the bypass should be constructed and 100% of the entire town is fully supportive of the decision. At that point, we begin looking for funding. The estimated costs for such a bypass range from approximately $250 million to around $500 million. This amount will never be affordable to the City of Glenwood so we would have to obtain funding from federal or state sources. The most realistic estimate of the time-frame when that funding might become available from either state or federal sources is at best 20 years and most likely 30 years.

Therefore, under this best case scenario, in which the council decides on a specific bypass alignment (extremely unlikely), and the town overwhelmingly supports that specific alignment (which is a fantasy), and the funding to build the project is made available in 20 years (unlikely), and it would probably take 2 to 3 years to construct the project – then we would have a bypass somewhere around 22 to 23 years from now. At that point the Grand Avenue Bridge would be 83 years old, may no longer be structurally sound, and the traffic volumes on Grand Avenue would have increased to the point where all of the measures identified in the Access Control Plan would have been implemented, no matter how undesirable they are.

This does not sound like a reasonable common-sense plan to me. I believe that we currently have an opportunity to replace a vital piece of our city infrastructure through a process in which the opportunities for citizen input and involvement are huge, where the potential impacts during construction to the city, including to our businesses and our citizens, are being scrutinized and evaluated and will be absolutely minimized, and where the end result will be something that everyone will cherish and appreciate. As a citizen of Glenwood Springs for 41 years of my life, I believe that we would be insane not to take advantage of this opportunity.

Sincerely,

Gamba & Associates, Inc.
Michael Gamba, P.E. & P.L.S.

One comment on “A Case For a New Bridge . . . Now

  1. Dick Prosence says:

    Replying to Mr. Gamba: Running 40-50,000 vehicles each day over a relatively smooth flowing corridor is much different than running them up a city street with all the side conflicts of crossing and turning movements. Having a gasoline tanker explode on Grand Avenue is a lot different than having it blow up a few hundred feet away along the old railroad corridor. The same is true of the spreading of noxious fumes. Far sighted city officials would hold out for a better solution even if it meant waiting a few more years. No one is dying on the narrow bridge. If city council members and other local officials aggressively lobbied for moving SH82 off of Grand Avenue surprising things could happen. Look how SH82 got improved to the gates of Aspen. At least, support the development of an evironmental assessment of the railroad corridor with a fairly accurate cost estimate instead of the 200-500 million dollar figure being used to frighten people.

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