Sopris Sun

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Here comes the bridge

By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff

After years of planning and months of construction, the planned 95-day closure of the Grand Avenue Bridge (GAB) begins Aug. 14.

In the largest infrastructure project on the Western Slope in 25 years, crews are working to replace the more than five-decade-old traffic bridge across the Colorado River and Interstate 70 in Glenwood Springs. While the impacts will be mostly felt by folks who live in or commute through Glenwood, the whole region is going to notice.

“Basically everybody’s got to go in and out of Glenwood through exit 114,” explained Tom Newland, public information manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).

That leaves Midland Avenue and Eighth Street as the primary connection between Interstate 70 and Highway 82 via Grand Avenue. Upvalley folks with destinations in north Glenwood may opt to take Devereaux, particularly if they’re headed to Iron Mountain Hot Springs or the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. There’s also a shuttle service from the old Bighorn Toyota lot over to the Glenwood Hot Springs, though folks might also consider parking on the south side of the river and walking over.

In fact, walkers and bikers are likely to find the closure much less disruptive in general. Although you won’t be able to pass under Grand Avenue at Seventh Street — an access already closed to cars — the pedestrian bridge just to the east will remain open throughout the project and, thanks to elevators, it’s ADA compliant. Indeed, RFTA will be bypassing the detour by staging buses on either side of the bridge, and will also be free from Battlement Mesa to Glenwood Springs for the duration of the closure.

Roaring Fork School District is taking a similar tact with a “walking bus” from Two Rivers Park, taking advantage of another pedestrian bridge near the confluence.

“We’ve got really a bunch of different ways that you can get around without your car,” observed Newland, who plans to do a lot of biking himself.

For construction workers or others who can’t bus or walk, CDOT is also offering incentives for carpooling, with passes available for vehicles with six or more people to skirt traffic in some places.

Newland is less concerned about visitors or locals with plans outside the standard commute time  or heading in the opposite direction from the crowds.

“Although these traffic counts are high, it’s definitely morning and afternoon centric,” he observed. “If you’re going against traffic, you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting through Glenwood Springs.”

Still, he added it may not be a bad idea to take Highway 133 over McClure Pass if you’re headed to Grand Junction or Highway 82 over Independence Pass if you’re headed to Denver.

“Not only does it help you, but it also helps traffic in general,” he said.

He discouraged Cottonwood Pass as a detour.

“If it gets wet or a stray semi truck happens to go up there, you could get stuck in the middle of nowhere for a good period of time,” he said.

He also noted that Colorado River access will be closed for 10 days beginning in Aug. 14 and again in September, with closures enforced at the Grizzly, Shoshone and Bair Ranch rest areas. For up to date information on river closures and restrictions, join the 3 p.m. daily conference call at 218-339-7800, access code 230-0335.

Meanwhile, Newland encouraged locals and visitors not to cut the area round the bridge out of their plans.

“Something I’m going to do for sure is frequent downtown a little more than I normally do,” he said. “Glenwood’s definitely open for business.”

He also has high hopes that the contractor will end up with a bonus for finishing early rather than a penalty for finishing late.

And when it does, folks will have to decide whether the inconvenience was worth the gift of GAB.