Many of us, given a choice, would go with status quo. Let’s keep things the same. We want our town to be the same place we grew up in. Even my son said this just this weekend. I touched on this in an earlier post FEAR, FACT and FRUSTRATION as well as SEEKING UNDERSTANDING. There is a German axiom that states, “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.”
This week, my personal wolf is fairly monstrous. I struggled with maintaining the status quo for a very long time. The problem with the status quo is that it simply doesn’t exist. Like it or not, things are always changing. I am learning that I do not control the universe . . . darn! While I would like to keep my body in the same shape as it was when I was 20- that just is not reality. Let’s just say that I am a bit beyond 20 and hereditary factors, age and wear are taking a bit of a toll. This week I will have surgery for a right hip arthroplasty – a fancy term for a hip replacement. Is my fear level up? You bet. I am reassured by numerous success stories, but still, the wolf lurks.
During a workshop with Council and CDOT Thursday evening, for which I was late . . . there was significant discussion on mitigation factors for the Grand Avenue Bridge project. If those that were there would like to comment more on that aspect, I would appreciate it Council, and those of us in attendance, also got a chance to look at a scale model of the proposed bridge. This model will be available for viewing at a booth at Strawberry Days as well as during the summer at the Downtown Market. I would encourage everyone to take some time to look at it. A word of caution – this is a model, made of white plastic and meant to show size and scale. It is not meant to show design elements. You will see a few of the initial design elements proposed by the designers for the pedestrian bridge. However, those have been modified, in design drawings, to bring in more of the historical feel of Glenwood Springs. I sincerely hope, as Council member Todd Leahy suggested, that CDOT brings those design boards along with the model to the public. I think it will go a long way to alleviating some fears.
Also discussed at last night’s Council meeting was a proposal by Garfield County resident, John Haines, to bring an “advisory” ballot question to the residents of Glenwood Springs regarding the bridge. The proposed language was as follows:
- Should the City of Glenwood Springs proceed with the replacement of the Grand Avenue Bridge as currently proposed. YES or NO
- Or should the City of Glenwood Springs focus its attention on a master plan to relieve Grand Avenue of State Highway 82 traffic YES or NO
John Haines, and three others, Jim Denton, Hal Sundin and Cheryl Cain urged Council to consider such a vote. It was the contention of Mr. Haines that there is overwhelming public sentiment against a new bridge and Council does not have the pulse of the people. Hal Sundin maintained that if Council is truly interested, then Council should let the public speak via a vote. Cheryl Cain, a member of the City’s Transportation Commission said that citizens want to be involved and deserve to be involved. She felt communication is better but still not what it needs to be.
Charlie Willman stated that he was speaking as a private citizen, not as a DDA member. Mr. Willman pointed out that such a vote would be a waste of funds because, in the end, it is CDOT’s decision, not the citizens of Glenwood Springs, whether a new bridge will be constructed. The bridge is part of State Highway 82 and it is within CDOT’s purview. Additionally, he noted that the results of such a ballot would not be representative of the wishes of the people. Generally, there is more impetus for those against something to cast a ballot than there is for those in favor. As alternatives, he suggested a straw poll or enlisting the services of a professional survey.
Mr. Denton countered Mr. Willman’s suggestion that a survey be done, stating that might have been a valid way to conduct a poll at one time, but now, due to cell phones, that is no longer viable. He suggested a mail in vote allowing citizens from Rifle to Aspen a vote.
By and large, Council was not in favor of a vote. Council member Matt Steckler held that it could take months of argument about how the ballot question should be worded and who should be allowed to vote. Mr. Steckler pointed out that, as a “representative democracy” City Council has been elected by the people to represent them in such decisions. He noted that if Council is not representing the wishes of the people, the people have the option to remove them from office. He contended that the NEPA process gives Glenwood a voice in the bridge process. He acknowledged that he is interested in providing a benefit to the citizens of Glenwood Springs and declared that he will not support any ballot question on this subject.
Councilor Mike Gamba observed that the question, as stated, was a false choice. He emphasized that these are not alternatives that are available. The city cannot take the $60 million offered by the State in the Bridge Enterprise Fund and use it to build a bypass. He reminded the public that Glenwood has a 60 year old bridge that is deficient and unsafe. Councilman Gamba stated that whether the bridge serves as Highway 82 or a connection to Grand Ave, Glenwood needs a new bridge. He agreed that CDOT has a right to build a bridge, vote or no vote and acknowledged that CDOT has been very respectful in this process.
Councilman Ted Edmonds affirmed that he was also opposed to this suggestion by Citizens to Save Grand Avenue. He noted that if a vote were put to the citizens of Glenwood Springs asking whether Glenwood should have a bypass, it would probably show that the citizens think there should be a bypass. However he stated the “devil is in the detail.” It could be argued that Midland is not a good location due to all of driveways accessing it. The other popular suggested alternative is the river corridor, however, the problem is that the City of Glenwood Springs does not own the corridor. Most of it is controlled by RFTA and has been rail-banked in order to preserve the potential of heavy freight on the corridor.
Councilor Edmonds recounted that a friend of his in had driven over the I-5 Bridge in Seattle just minutes before it collapsed in May. That bridge, he confirmed was considered functionally obsolete, just as the Grand Avenue Bridge has been rated. Every condition of that bridge, he stressed, applies to the Grand Avenue Bridge. He stated that he considers the primary function of City Council to be safety and he is opposed to delaying this process, which he said has been a good bridge. He emphasized that Glenwood desperately needs a new bridge now.
Council member Stephen Bershenyi acknowledged that these issues cut across the community. Taking the charge of the Citizens to Save Grand Avenue seriously, he stated he has spent much time talking with people in the community. Overwhelmingly, he stated, the citizens believe we need a new bridge that safeguards both people and the economy of Glenwood. He reiterated that CDOT has been much more collaborative than in the past. He agreed that he was unwilling to spend $15,000 on a question that does not need to be asked and questioned whether the Citizens to Save Grand Avenue actually have a majority opinion. He asserted that Council has done their due diligence in wrestling with this decision.
Councilman Dave Sturges said that he is interested in getting more citizen input and the city needs to do more to engage citizens. He asserted that meetings do not leave room for dialog and are driven by agendas. He observed that Glenwood is the midst of a decision. He questioned what the right solution is at this time. He acknowledged that the point that the current bridge is functionally obsolete is hard to argue but he does not think that the process is to the point of asking this question. The question of whether Grand Avenue should be relieved of Highway 82 traffic is not an either-or question. Councilor Sturges also stated that he has concerns with the process and the transparency of the process. He encouraged citizens to stay involved, although he stated he could not support this proposal at this time.
Mayor Leo McKinney observed that if there was as much opposition to the bridge as the Citizens to Save Grand Avenue indicate, City Council chambers would have been packed. He recognized that this has been a lengthy, ongoing process. He acknowledged that the bridge construction will be very painful but hoped it would be painful for only a very short period of time.
In the end Council did not need to take any action on this item, and it was clear that this proposal was not moving forward. However, as Councilor Sturges stated, the citizens must continue to be involved in this critical process. I would be interested in hearing your ideas about ways to foster citizen involvement in this and other important decisions in our city and in our region. What could the City be doing and what, as citizens could we be doing to make this communication an ongoing thing? BTW – anyone interested in serving on the Planning Commission? We could use some citizen involvement!