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Things return to normal after bridge construction

By Megan Tackett
Sopris Sun Staff

About 3,000 people gathered for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony that marked the reopening of the Grand Avenue Bridge in Glenwood Springs Nov. 6 — two weeks ahead of schedule, which only added to the celebratory vibe.

The accompanying community walk across the newly opened bridge to Eighth Street made for striking photographs to commemorate the occasion. But for students in the Roaring Fork School District, the bridge reopening means less time walking during their daily commutes.

“Those kids walked 47 miles over the course of the walking school bus,” said Jared Rains, Roaring Fork Schools transportation director. The “walking school bus” refers to one of the more innovative solutions the transportation team created to counter the obstacles that the detour presented regarding bus routes. Before construction on the bridge began, Roaring Fork school busses crossed it about 24 times per day — during construction, only one bus navigated the detour.

“Instead of driving our buses through the detour, we drove students to either side of the bridge, let them walk across to the bus waiting for them on the other side,” Rains said. “We timed it out with our kindergarten class, and it took about 20 minutes for them to do that walk. Over all, it probably saved them from having to be on the bus for an extra 45 minutes to an hour.”

Now that the bridge has reopened, routes will return to normal and students’ commutes will remain 100-percent vehicular. That returned sense of “normalcy” isn’t just limited to school bus drivers and students, of course.

“We had extended construction [hours],” Jay Harrington, Carbondale town manager, said. “We’d also allowed trash pickup to start at 6 a.m.”

The intention behind the schedule switches had been to accommodate trash hauling across the bridge to occur during “off hours,” Harrington said. “I don’t know if we saw as much impact on the construction side, but the trash haulers were taking advantage of that extra hour.” Weekday trash services will return to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. hours and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Carbondale Town Hall hours will go back to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. During the bridge construction period, employees of the town worked four 10-hour days Mondays through Thursdays to accommodate the typically heavier Friday-afternoon traffic.

“I think some of our police will be ready to change schedules because we had staggered night shifts for the folks who lived on the other side of the bridge; we were trying to accommodate commuting patterns, too, because about a third of our workforce is on the other side of the bridge,” Harrington said.

The more obvious changes now that the bridge has reopened will be felt by commuters. “I’m looking forward to getting five hours of my life back [each day] — at least five hours,” Britny McElfresh, a West Glenwood resident, said. As a kindergarten and music teacher at the Skylark School and an actress with Vaudeville Review, she was sometimes going in and out of downtown Glenwood three times in a day. “It was two hours both ways [during construction], give or take,” she said.

But it wasn’t all bad.

“I’m going to miss having a project, that was kind of cool,” Rains said. “What it’s really done, is it kind of forced a lot of relationships and connections to happen in the city and district that may not have happened before.”

McElfresh, for her part, didn’t let her extra time spent sitting in her car go to waste. A performer at heart, she created a “Traffic Tales” series for her YouTube channel. By Monday’s reopening, she had made 56 episodes, each of which typically garnered hundreds of views.

“I do have a following. I’m not quite sure what to do with it,” she said with a laugh about her future online presence now that “Traffic Tales” has ended with the construction. “I’m keeping an open mind. It might have something to do with comedy; it might have something to do with music… when it hits me like the traffic, then there we go.”