Glenwood commuting challenge mounts for Eagle County residents
EAGLE COUNTY — On at least one occasion, Gypsum resident Art Kleinschmidt found himself sitting in backed-up traffic on Interstate 70 that stretched back to the Yampa Spa site as he attempted to commute to his job in Carbondale.
“It can be tough,” Kleinschmidt said, “and I think it’s just going to get worse.”
He is right. The Grand Avenue Bridge project — which spans the Colorado River and is the primary access to downtown Glenwood Springs — is the largest infrastructure project on the Western Slope in 25 years. Construction is now in phase three of the five-phase project, as crews are working to replace the more than five-decade-old traffic bridge.
There is a sizable cadre of Eagle County residents who commute to Glenwood daily, and they know they are in for a difficult few months. CDOT’s Bridge Project team is making the rounds meeting with area elected officials, schools, chambers of commerce and large employers in a series of community meetings to talk about the impacts and what people can expect in the months ahead. Team member have scheduled time before the Eagle County commissioners on June 13.
This summer will see a flurry of activity heading up to Aug. 14.
According to Tom Newland, of the Colorado Department of Transportation, at 12:01 a.m. on that date, the existing Grand Avenue vehicular traffic bridge will be closed. That closure will last for 95 days, during which time the contractor will complete demolition of the structure and construction of the new bridge. Sometime around Thanksgiving, the new bridge will open with one-lane traffic in each direction.
At that point, Glenwood residents and commuters alike will have a whole lot to be thankful for. In the meantime, travel through the city will be difficult.
Even before the bridge closure, motorists are finding it difficult to navigate through Glenwood. That will continue throughout the summer. According to Newland, there is extensive work currently under way at the West Glenwood exit and along Midland Avenue and Sixth Street — the eventual detour route when the bridge shuts down.
Kleinschmidt said he has already tried traveling the West Glenwood route at times.
“I have been stuck in stalled traffic down in West Glenwood too,” Kleinschmidt said. “It’s tough both ways.”
Gypsum resident Michelle Stoltzfus has found the best solution for her to get to work at the Calaway-Young Cancer Center is to leave early. She takes off from Eagle County at around 6:45 a.m. to beat the traffic and get to work by 7:30 a.m.
“Once 8 a.m. hits, there is so much traffic,” she said.
In preparation for the Aug. 14 shutdown, CDOT has set a goal of removing one out of every three cars from the detour route as a way to prevent congestion.
“It’s kind of a community effort, and we want people to plan ahead and we want them to drive less,” Newland said.
The CDOT Grand Avenue Bridge information site notes that traffic delays are contingent on a 35 percent traffic reduction in vehicle trips along the detour route, or approximately 700 vehicles per hour.
Those traffic impacts and delays will span from the I-70 Exit 114 interchange to 27th Street in Glenwood Springs. Under the best-case scenario, CDOT figures a 35 percent reduction in traffic during peak hours will equal approximately 15-minute delays. Under the worst-case scenario, with no reduction in current traffic, motorists will face approximately one-hour delays.
Newland said CDOT is urging motorists to use mass transit and avoid the route during rush hour. State officials are also hoping more employers can allow their workers to telecommute. Additionally, there will be an employee van pool permit program offered beginning in July for any employer and groups to allow vans with six or more people to have a dedicated lane through parts of the detour, both eastbound from Exit 114 in the morning and coming back in the evening.
But for people who are already commuting to get to town, that option makes for difficult logistics.
“The van isn’t really an option for me,” Stoltzfus said. “In my line of work, I have to be at my job at a certain time. I can’t rely on a van service.”
Luckily, Stoltzfus said her office has made scheduling changes to address the commute back to Gypsum.
“Coming home, we are going to work out closing hours so our patients leave at 3:30,” she said. “Leave earlier and end sooner is my plan.”
Ripping off the bandage
Although the coming months will be a big challenge for Glenwood residents and commuters, Newland said the clear sentiment from community input meetings held prior to the bridge construction was to go with a higher impact, shorter duration plan.
“Everyone knows we need this bridge, and when we are done, it will be a great project,” he said.
Stoltzfus agrees with the reasoning behind an aggressive, shorter-term construction plan.
“There is no perfect solution for this,” she said. “Obviously the bridge needs to be replaced because the traffic in Glenwood has grown so much.”
She hopes the new bridge is up and operational before winter weather hits.
“If I have winter weather and the bridge construction both, that would be pretty rough,” Stoltzfus said.
To learn more about the Grand Avenue Bridge project, visit the project’s Facebook page or http://www.codot.gov/projects/sh82grandavenuebridge.