Does EA stand for Eaten Alive?

Battered and bruised at the Grand Avenue Bridge EA hearing

I am feeling a little bit beaten up and if I am feeling that way, I can only imagine what Joe Elsen must be feeling.  To say that the public hearing on the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Grand Avenue Bridge was interesting is a bit of an understatement.

GAB EA CoverThe Good

The night was not without merit. Some universal themes repeated themselves, the best of which, in my opinion had nothing to do with CDOT or the Grand Avenue Bridge.  That is regional transportation planning.

Regional Transportation Planning

I fully support the idea of regional transportation planning.  It is high time that Garfield, Eagle & Pitkin counties, along with the municipalities of Rifle, Silt, New Castle, Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Basalt, Snowmass, and Aspen form a Regional Transportation Commission to address regional needs.  That need is apparent with the Grand Avenue Bridge and it also came to the forefront with the FedEx approval. 

I would suggest that a 12 member Regional Transportation Commission be formed, consisting of a single representative from each of the above counties and municipalities.  I would also suggest that a representative from RFTA be included, making up the 12th member. I would suggest that a CDOT representative be included as an ex officio member.  Like it or not, they are a major player in transportation in our area and we need their voice at the table.

One Voice

For project funding and statewide support, we —this region — must speak with one voice.  We are competing with major metropolitan areas and we can no longer afford to compete with one another for the extremely limited transportation funding available.

The first charge of this group would be to develop a 25-30 year regional transportation plan. Only then can shorter range solutions be found.  This doesn’t have to be rocket science and studies costing hundreds of thousands of dollars are not needed.  Bring existing plans to the table and see what are common needs, and what are the greatest impact to the region. Start simply and build a strong plan.

Time

Mayor Leo McKinney appealed to CDOT to extend the length of the comment period, if for no other reason than to give city staff a chance to thoroughly study and adequately comment on the EA. This also would give the public a better chance to read and try to understand what is contained in this document. A 30-60 day extension seems to be a good idea.

Negative is more compelling

I love the passion that people have for Glenwood and for the region.  It was a good turnout and no, I don’t think John Haines or the Citizens to Save Grand Avenue “stuffed the ballot box” so to speak. But frankly, as humans, we are far more comfortable complaining than we are expressing how satisfied we are.  When I was in advertising many years ago, there was an adage that people who had a bad experience were likely to tell 10 people, but those that had a good experience were likely to share it with no one. I have personally talked with many who are very much in favor of the Grand Avenue Bridge project. Were they at the meeting tonight? No. Most were home playing with their children, helping with homework, visiting friends, or out for a brisk bike ride. Will they take the time to comment on the EA? Probably not. That is the unfortunate reality.

Does the EA have flaws? Absolutely!  And the scope of the project and its purpose are probably some of  the largest.  A much larger area should have been considered – an area covering Midland to 27th Street at least.  This would open a more likely partnership on a permanent 8th Street Connection .  The purpose statement of the EA is weak.  It does not address the regional importance of the bridge.

The Bad . . . this is gonna hurt

fist fight

Frankly I am going to irritate some people by what I say next.  As an admirer of Abraham Lincoln, one of his quotes comes to mind:

“Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.”

I believe my feet are in the right place, so here goes.

There were many comments from people tonight who, as sincere and impassioned as they were, had absolutely no idea what they were talking about.  They may have thought they have all the information they need, and that the information they have is accurate, correct, and complete, but there are some suggestions and recommendations that absolutely fly in the face of reality. 

“Tell City Council to stop this.”

Seriously?  How?  It is the State’s bridge.  It is the State’s highway.  Could CDOT walk away from this? Maybe . . . but then what?  What if CDOT said, fine – the bridge and Grand Avenue through town is yours, Glenwood.  You maintain it. You replace it.  Do you think city sales tax, the minuscule amount of property tax and lodging tax is going to cover that? I don’t think so.

Ah . . . the Bypass

I am not anti bypass.  Let me be clear.

However, two questions loom and no one tonight addressed the biggest one.

1. Where? 

and the biggie . . .

2. How do “we” pay for it?

For the where – I heard some suggestions.  Twin tunnels from Canyon Creek to South Bridge. Cut and cover tunnel along the railroad corridor. Just condemn some houses and go along the old railroad. No problem.  Well . . . maybe it’s not that easy.

pennies from heavenLet’s talk money 

No one addressed the financial piece.  Several said there “must” be some money “somewhere” for this. If you think so, then please come forward with a concrete suggestion.  And again I heard, ‘just move the money from Grand Avenue Bridge and build a bypass.”  Is anyone listening?  Even if you had Governor Hickenlooper’s support for doing that and the backing of the state governing body those funds are constrained. 

The massive amount of repair to the highways to Estes Park were mentioned as an example of found money. Those come from federal emergency funds.  If CDOT walks away from the Grand Avenue Bridge, I certainly hope emergency funds are available in a few years.  We may need them.

If you want funding to build a bypass, then let’s be honest.  It will probably involve TAXES. The Federal Government is not going to roll over and hand us the money.  Rather than calling for a vote whether to allow a new bridge, perhaps Citizens to Save Grand Avenue should be pulling together a referendum to take to regional voters for a tax to fund a bypass.

Insulted

Honestly, I am insulted by some of what I heard tonight.  There have been groups of local citizens, perhaps your friends and neighbors, who have been meeting for months and months, spending hours of their own time pouring over plans, talking with other people,  listening to alternatives, sitting in public meetings, workshops and forums and asking nothing in return.  I have been part of those groups.  I have seen how seriously they have taken their charge.  They have simply been trying to work to bring some resolution to a very real safety concern, and find the best solution for Glenwood Springs. Yet there are armchair quarterbacks stating the process is flawed and the design is bad.  Perhaps it isn’t perfect – but then the next time there is an opening on the Transportation Commission or some other opportunity to give your time – I hope to see you there.  Get out of your armchair and be part of the solution.

If you haven’t read the Environmental Assessment (EA) you can find it here.    To submit a comment send an email to Joe Elsen:  Joseph.Elsen@state.co.us

I could have spoken up at tonight’s meeting, but three minutes was not nearly enough time as it was not for many who spoke.  What do you think?  Am I totally off base?  Let me know.