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Bad traffic may be good for Glenwood Springs’ South Bridge project

John Gardner
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox / Post IndependentMorning and evening traffic has become especially challenging for motorists on Midland Avenue with the temporary closure of the 27th Street bridge.
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – The argument for a controversial southern alternate route into Glenwood Springs via Midland Avenue was made ever so apparent with the closure of the Sunlight Bridge at 27th Street last week.

Glenwood Springs residents got a good look this past week of just how many vehicles travel through Glenwood on any given day.

The traffic was enough to make Glenwood resident Leonard Rangel change his daily commute times. Rangel said that the first day the bridge was closed in the morning, Tuesday, Sept. 15, that it took him 15 minutes just to turn left from Cowdin Drive onto West Eighth Street.



“I either have to plan to leave earlier, or later,” he said.

But his main gripe was that city officials did a poor job planning and didn’t do enough to control the added traffic impacts.



“They create these messes, then they bury their heads in the sand,” he said.

Rangel echoes the opinions of many residents.

Pierre DuBois, owner of the Sunlight Mountain Inn, said that he noticed the effects of the Sunlight Bridge closure the first day it was closed as well. DuBois said that his guests have had trouble finding the Inn because the city failed to put up proper detour signs.



“I felt that there wasn’t adequate signing put up to get people around,” DuBois said.

His frustration is that the city put a sign at 23rd Street on Grand Avenue that the bridge is closed, but there is no detour information.

“We have had people absolutely lost in this whole thing,” DuBois said.

According to City Engineer Mike McDill, the city did consider what impacts the traffic would have on residents, but the project would be completed within two weeks and it did not make sense to change street signals or make lane changes.

“We’ve been hesitant to make those changes,” McDill said. “By the time you get people used to the changes, it’s going to be time to switch back.”

McDill admitted that more could have been done in terms of detour signs, but he said that temporary changes to traffic lights, such as the Midland and West Eighth Street signal, actually increase the chance of accidents.

“It creates more accident risk that we thought we would have by not changing it,” McDill said. “Although it’s been slow, it’s been manageable.”

Police Chief Terry Wilson agreed and said that there hasn’t been an increase in traffic accidents since the closure. Wilson addressed the need for more officers out doing traffic control to help alleviate the situation by saying that it would not really help.

“The problem is that it just pushes the problem somewhere else,” Wilson said. “We would never be able to have a significant positive impact on [traffic], we could just move it around.”

Wilson and McDill agreed that the closure does support the argument for an alternate southern route.

Some have questioned the timing of the construction saying that the officials were attempting to solidify an argument about the importance of the South Bridge alternative. McDill said that that is not true.

“I think it does give people a feel of what traffic will be like if we don’t do something with our transportation system,” McDill said. “But it was not intended to be a statement in that regard.”

A look in to the future

Current estimates of the amount of traffic that travels Midland Avenue is approximately 11,500 cars per day, according to Craig Gaskill of Jacobs Engineering.

Jacobs Engineering is the firm the city has contracted to do the South Bridge Environmental Assessment.

Gaskill told Glenwood city councilors, the Garfield County commissioners, and a handful of residents at a joint South Bridge meeting last week, that in the next 25 years traffic could be as high as 26,000 cars per day on Midland Avenue.

“We are talking more than double the current amount if nothing happens [with the South Bridge],” Gaskill said.

Gaskill estimated the daily traffic would more likely be lower, between 16,000 and 20,000 per day, with the addition of a South Bridge. While that would lessen the anticipated use of the Sunlight Bridge, it is expected to increase the traffic by 20 times on Airport Road.

Gaskill estimated that with the addition of a South Bridge alternative traffic could increase from the current volume of around 500 vehicles per day on Airport Road, to between 9,500 and 11,000. Without a South Bridge option built, Gaskill estimated that the traffic on Airport road would not increase much in the next quarter century.

“With nothing done, it will increase to about 1,100 per day,” he said.

The figures are estimated through the year 2035 and were developed using projected growth potential for the areas that would utilize the South Bridge access, including Cardiff Glenn, South Glenwood Springs, and the Four Mile corridor up to Sunlight Mountain Resort.

Gaskill said that even with the now defunct Sunlight development off the planning department’s table, they still accounted for growth in the Four Mile area.

“There is a lot of land use potential that is there,” Gaskill said.

With the inclusion of an alternate South Bridge the current use of the Sunlight Bridge would remain about what it is today, Gaskill estimated, which is about 12,500 vehicles per day.

However, without it, the Sunlight Bridge could see as much as 26,500 vehicles in a single day by the year 2035, Gaskill said.

“The bridge is not designed to handle that kind of traffic,” McDill said.

Closure indicates need for alternative

Former Glenwood City Councilor Dave Merritt expressed an obvious conclusion that the recent closure of the Sunlight Bridge is an indicator of the need for a Southern alternative.

“Everyone was not in favor of the South Bridge when I was first on council,” he said. “The past three days is an excellent example of why we need another option down there.”

But then the question arises of how to pay for the estimated $30 million project.

Merritt agreed with County Commissioner John Martin, who opposed the idea of federal funds paying for a portion of the project.

On funding the project, Martin said that is a question which should be posed to the taxpayers.

“You need to put the question to the people and say, ‘Are you going to do this or not?'” Martin said. “We need a vote and how much are we going to tax each other to get it done.”

Said Merritt, “We would be better off if the city can get together and work on a solution without the federal funds at all.”

Commissioner Martin told Glenwood city councilors and fellow county commissioners at the joint meeting that the scope of the South Bridge Project is “way too small.”

“I think the solution is not one, but is multiple. We have got to have multiple crossings, not just one. I’ve always felt that way,” he said.

But some residents are not convinced that the city has been forthcoming in its intentions of the South Bridge being an “emergency or local access,” and the numbers Gaskill reported support that claim.

David Harris told councilors and commissioners that the project is, and always has been, operating on a false basis.

“This is operating from a flawed premise of emergency access and local access, but we need to understand that this is going to act as a bypass,” Harris said.

“We have to get to that recognition,” he said.

And the traffic proves it.

jgardner@postindependent.com


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