Biting my tongue . . . or not

Blogging and writing has been more difficult these last 10 months. It is not because I have nothing to say. I actually do.  I realize that not everyone agrees with me and that is ok. But I find myself mulling over the word decorum – behavior in keeping with good taste and propriety.  I find myself walking a very thin line.  So mostly I find I bite my tongue and stay away from my computer.  For me this is painful.   

The reason for my discomfort and disconnect is simple.  I was elected to a local office. So now, rather than speaking my mind, I am trying to listen more and search for the common ground.  I now represent more than my one opinion. Sadly, sometimes I fail miserably.  But I continue to try to maintain a certain decorum fitting of one holding an elected office. 

More frequently I find myself trying to choose my words, and explain my position so carefully that I get lost in the weeds and I fail to make my position clear. I rarely put words down on paper — or in the computer — because, quite frankly, you never know where they will end up and how they may be interpreted.

While I intend to maintain decorum and seek common ground, I find I must continue to write . . . to clarify to me, my position. I need to write both sides of a situation, to more fully understand it. I need to explore the issues and my thoughts.  It will benefit me and those I serve. Some will end up here.  Some will remain on my laptop.

Right now, three issues jump to the forefront.

Grand Ave Bridge (still)

First is the ever-present Grand Avenue Bridge. I will not belabor the point, but I, like many others, are looking forward to the possibilities a new bridge will bring, rather than looking backwards at what Glenwood was, 20, 30 or 50 years ago. I am amazed that after as long as we have been cussing and discussing this bridge that so many people don’t understand the need and don’t see the potential benefit. Yes, it will be painful. During the height of construction and closure, my 7 minute commute will likely be five times that — if I drive.  If I am practicing what I am preaching, I’d better be walking, biking or on the bus. But more than that, I need to find ways to get others out of their cars and using alternative transportation.

Snow Removal

sidewalk parking garage

Courtesy of the Glenwood Post Independent

The second deals with snow and the fact that it is still around on many of our streets, trails and sidewalks. And another storm is looming. This is when exploring both sides of the issue helps — just a little.

Viewpoint one: There is still a lot of snow on the city streets and it has been a few days since the heaviest snowfall. I don’t like it. But what I like even less is that we  have such a hard time properly clearing sidewalks and trails. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist (no laughing, please) and so it bothers me to see sidewalks that have a single shovel width haphazardly scooped, or worse yet, no attempt made. In my opinion, if it is a city code that sidewalks be cleared within 24 hours, then  they should be cleared and made safe and easily passable for anyone. I would ask that the city set the example.

This was discussed by council last week and we requested that city staff provide the protocol for clearing streets.  Public Works Director Robin Millyard provided the following Information:

As follows is a listing in order of priority for snow plowing of City of Glenwood Springs’ streets.

A. Emergency routes, school bus routes, and main traffic areas such as Alternate Route – Midland Avenue to Glenwood Park, South Grand Avenue, Pitkin Avenue, Blake Avenue and Donegan Road.

B. Downtown Commercial areas.

C. Steep streets such as Cedar Crest area, Vista Drive, Sunny Acres, Traver Trail, the North Glenwood area, the Red Mountain area, and steep streets East of Grand Avenue.

D. All remaining streets in low and/or flat areas.

Grand Avenue and U. S. Highway 6 are plowed by the Colorado State Highway Department.

Robin Millyard asked that if you have question to call Rick Turner, Streets Superintendent at 970-384-6379

I am still awaiting information from the Parks Department on trails and sidewalks.

Viewpoint two:  Within the city limits of Glenwood Springs there are 84.04 “Lane Miles” of streets that must be cleared.  There are also a significant amount of sidewalks and trails. It should be noted that clearing much of the sidewalks within the city is the responsibility of adjacent residence or business.  It is the city’s responsibility to clear snow around parks, parking garages, city buildings and city trails.  Like it or not, the city has a limited budget and a finite number of staff to carry out those duties. If money and resources are put into plowing and shoveling, it is likely that some other program will be reduced.

Hot Springs Pool Outflow Pipe Relocation

Glenwood Hot Pots

Photo Courtesy of Glenwood Post Independent, John Stroud

The third is more of a comment. I believe the city made the right decision on the location of the Glenwood Hot Springs outflow pipe for a number of reasons:

The change in the floodplain mapping has created a hardship for one of Glenwood’s largest tourist attractions.

The move farther downstream mitigates some of the flood potential and the Glenwood Hot Springs liability

The pipes (the pool outflow and stormwater drainage) would have been moved by CDOT anyway with the construction

The Hot Springs is paying to have them taken farther downstream to a more optimal location.

The location to which CDOT would have moved the pipes would have meant a greater likelihood of future hot pots and the outflow pipe would not have been buried

The outflow pipe (not the stormwater pipe) will be four feet below the low water like in faster flowing water ensuring better mixing.  The flow rate of the river will help prevent random hot pots from cropping up.

The Hot Springs intends to work with the city in making some shoreline improvements while they are in the area, hopefully moving a shoreline restoration project in that area along.

Until next time, I remain your committed public servant!

Update Sept 2015 – Budget, Homeless, and More!

I am five months into my four-year term of serving you as Councilor-at-large on Glenwood Springs City Council. It is a privilege to be a part of such a great city and I am honored to work with other city council members, city staff, local business and citizens to help guide Glenwood through the next three and a half years.  It is likely to be some of the best times that Glenwood has seen, as well as some of the most difficult. 

One of my election promises was better communication and I have not been as good at that as I had hoped.  So, to that end, as a start I plan to provide a monthly update that will include a brief description of meetings and events I have attended as well as a bit about one or more city departments.  Sometimes it may seem like nothing is happening and things do move more slowly than we all would like. But picture a duck on the Colorado River.  On the top, the duck looks calm and seems to be floating along, but below the surface, that duck’s feet are paddling like crazy.  So goes it with city hall.

Finance Department

Charles KeltySince we are deep into budget season, the first department I would like to highlight is the Finance Department, headed by Charles Kelty. Charles took over the reins from Mike Harman who retired earlier this year after 24 years as the Finance Director. Charles spent nine years as the finance director in Rifle and had a Master’s Degree in Accounting. Finance handles all of the city’s payroll, utility billing, tax administration, purchasing and building maintenance as well as making sure the city’s bills are paid and collecting funds owed to the city.

Staff includes Yvette Gustad, Assistant Finance Director; Ricky Smith, Purchasing Agent; Karen Bender, Janice Palacio, Linda Millyard and Candie Vandermark, all Senior Accounting Techs and Martha Gonzales and Elida Trujillo Solano the ladies who keep city hall sparkling clean. When you come to pay your utility bills or pick up a bus pass, these are the staff you see and are often the main contact for people dealing with city hall.

Taking the city through the budget process is no easy task and involves hours of the finance department’s time as well as a great deal of time from City Manager Jeff Hecksel and all department supervisors. Beginning Sept 29, the city will begin holding meetings with City Council, the Financial Advisory Board, and department heads to review the proposed budget, line by line. A schedule of these meetings is provided below. These are public meetings and the public is encouraged to attend.  A preliminary draft budget should be available on the City’s website when the budget work sessions begin.

Budget Work Session Schedule:

Sept 29 – 5pm -7 pm

Oct 8Special Meeting, DDA & Budget 6pm-9pm

Oct 154pm – 6pm

Oct 20Special Meeting 6pm-9pm

Oct 29Special Meeting 6pm-9pm

Nov 5if needed

All budget work sessions will be held in council chambers at city hall.

Monthly Update – meetings and events I attended

Grand Ave Bridge:  Met with representatives from Glenwood Springs Chamber, CDOT, DDA and city staff to discuss public information plans for the Grand Avenue Bridge Project August 27 2015.

Transportation Commission Sept 1, 2015:  I serve as the alternate council liaison to this commission.  Mayor Mike Gamba is the liaison.  Discussion items included the Blake Avenue Gate between Walmart and the RFTA BRT station on 27th as well as traffic calming measures on the residential streets in the downtown area.  Terri Partch, City Engineer and Geoff Guthrie, City Transportation Manager discussed the proposed multi-use path along Midland, from Lowes to Interchange 114, 27th Street Bridge and touched on RFTA’s Access Control Plan.  They updated on the Grand Avenue Bridge and 8th Street extension projects as well as discussing who will represent this commission on the Acquisitions and Improvement (A&I) tax working group.  The Transportation Commission is finalizing the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) and determining next steps.  This commission always has a great deal to discuss and it seems like never enough time!

Ride-along with GSPD Sept 4, 2015:  I was privileged to be able to ride and walk with several officers from the police department  from 6 p.m. to about 2:30 a.m. It was a great experience, one I hope to do again. You can read more about my thoughts here.  My thanks to Officers Noel, Crawford, Cole, Gobbo, Miller, Dietrich, Yorty,  and Lawson as well as Code Enforcement Officer Springer, Detective Sergeant Hassell, and Patrol Sergeant Prough for putting up with all of my questions and taking the time to talk with me.

Colorado Municipal League (CML) District 11 Meeting in Silt Sept 9, 2015:  CML provides  training and information on issues of concern to counties and municipalities.  It is also a great chance to talk with other staff and elected officials from other communities in our area. Mayor Rick Aluise presented a wonderful powerpoint on the accomplishments that have taken place in Silt in the recent year.

Roaring Fork Transit Authority Board Meeting (RFTA) Sept 10, 2015:  I serve as the alternate council liaison to this board.  Mayor Mike Gamba is the liaison.  Discussion items included a presentation of the first draft of RFTA’s 2016 budget and an update of the Rio Grande Corridor Access Control Plan.  License for access to the Rio Grande Trail was granted to ACES Rock Bottom Ranch

Take Back Your Power Sept 10, 2015:  At the invitation of Marilyn Shettel, I attended a screening of a documentary “Take Back Your Power.”  It raised some interesting questions and I will be talking more with Ms. Shuttle in the near future.

We’ve Got Your Back!  Sept. 11, 2015:  This was a hastily thrown together “thank you” to area law enforcement and first responders in our region from Aspen to Parachute.  For being planned in less than 36 hours, it was well attended.  I have received requests from community members to turn this into an annual event and make it bigger. We’ll work on that!

Club 20 Fall Meeting Sept. 12, 2015:  This was my first Club 20 meeting and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet on things happening statewide and nationally. I also received lessons from Henry Sobanet, Governor Hickenlooper’s Budget Director on Colorado’s fiscal challenges and from Mark Hermundstad on water regulations and impacts on Colorado’s Western Slope. The networking was also wonderful!

Garfield County Economic Development Partners Sept 16, 2015:  This is a group of staff and elected officials from various entities throughout Garfield County that meet quarterly to review what is happening in Garfield County. RFTA presented their 2015 Travel Plan Study.  The roundtable is particularly useful to know what other communities are working on and to provide opportunities for partnership and coordination.

In addition we have had two City Council meetings which included a work session on the Confluence Area and a work session with the Planning and Zoning Commission.

***MARK YOUR CALENDARS***

Community Discussion: The Effect of the Growing Homeless & Vagrant Population in Glenwood Springs

Monday, October 5, 2015

6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Glenwood Springs Community Center

Coming up this week: 

Planning & Zoning Commission Meeting Tuesday, Sept. 22

City Staff Employee Picnic Friday, Sept 25 – City Hall closed from Noon to 2 p.m.

Fire Department’s Open House Saturday Sept 26!  The Fire Department’s Open House is always fun for all ages so come on down from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the downtown fire station at 8th & Cooper.

Board and Commission Openings:  apply here!

Planning and Zoning:  1 Alternate

River Commission: 1 Alternate

Victims and Witness Assistance & Law Enforcement Board (VALE): 1 Alternate

Board of Appeals: 1 Alternate

Parks and Recreation: 1 Alternate

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.

Changes in Attitude . . .

 

“Its these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes

Nothing remains quite the same

With all of our running and all of our cunning

If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane”

                                                     -Jimmy Buffett

 

Glenwood Springs could be looking at a game changer for the Grand Avenue Bridge.  Changes in personnel and attitudes at Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and in the Colorado Bridge Enterprise (CBE) have drawn some additional focus on the cost of the Grand Avenue Bridge.  Other State projects are vList_of_Significan_Projects_March_2014ying for attention . . . and funds.  Currently the Grand Avenue Bridge remains on CDOT’s list of “Significant Projects,” at number 20, with a budget of $21.7 million.  It is the ONLY significant project on the Western Slope. http://www.coloradodot.info/about/transportation-commission/documents/2014/march-2014/02ProgramManagementWorkshop.pdf

 Cash Management

According to a February 2014 memo, CDOT has recently moved from an obligation based budgeting process to a cash management, expenditure-based system.  Joe Elsen, Program Engineer, for CDOT said that is a big change. He explained it by stating the obligation based system required all the funds for the project to be “in the bank” before it could be advertised.  He compared the obligation based budgeting to saving up the entire cost of your dream house before you could build it.   The expenditure-based method is more akin to being able to finance that dream home. 

 Critical Factors

Under the new expenditure based program, CDOT would budget for yearly planned expenses, hence the $20 million in the current budget. Elsen emphasized that the dollars need to be there when needed, so that is why schedules and cost accuracy become critical.

In current schedule the final design and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) decision documents are due in February of 2015 – a deadline that seems almost impossible to meet.  According to Craig Gaskill, consultant team manager on the project, the environmental assessment (EA) has been delayed by decisions on the bridge alignment, design of the pedestrian bridge, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) issues and how the detour should work.  Gaskill emphasized that while it has been difficult to determine the best solution for those issues, it was important to go through the process.  However, given the funding realities, the schedule becomes more important and he stated that “we’ve pretty much run out of schedule flexibility.”

 Waning  Interest

That being said, several have voiced concerns over how decisions are being made and the public process. As anyone who has ever served on a committee knows, decisions are not always easy. Getting to consensus can be difficult.  CDOT has involved the public in the process.  At first, the open-houses were well attended.  City Council chambers were filled.  All of the various teams associated with this project can be a little overwhelming.  There is a Project Working Group, a Project Leadership Team, and a Stakeholders’ Working Group.  Then there have been various task forces. 

 

Transportation_Commission_001

Colorado Transportation Commission

In addition to the current lack of interest on the part of the public, the fact is that there seems to be waning support for the Grand Avenue Bridge among the upper levels of CDOT and the CBE due to personnel changes and budget constraints.  Incidentally, the Colorado Transportation Commission serves as the Colorado Bridge Enterprise Board. That is not to say that there is no support or that the project is in imminent danger, but the priority seems to be turning back to the front range. 

 

Who is calling the shots?

The fact remains that the Grand Avenue Bridge is both functionally obsolete and structurally insufficient.  The fact is also that Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork Valley is a major tourist destination for the State of Colorado, bringing millions into the state coffers. 

So, in my opinion, this begs the question:  Who and where are the decisions about the future of Glenwood Springs being made? The Project Leadership Team (PLT), the Stakeholder Working Group (SWG) and the various task forces, are advisory groups to the Project Working Group (PWG).  We have been told that it is the PWG that makes the decisions. 

CDOT’s web site does not list the individuals on the Project Working Group it simply lists organizations represented including:  CDOT Region3; CDOT Staff Bridge; Colorado Bridge Enterprise; Federal Highway Administration, Colorado Division; City of Glenwood Springs; Consultant Team. Who are the representatives from these various agencies?   Can the minutes from the PWG meetings be made available to make this process more transparent? Was consensus reached by the PWG on all issues?

As we move into difficult decisions about priorities for our bridge, the citizens of Glenwood Springs should be privy to those decision and the basis on which they are made. They directly impact our lives.  Since it is difficult to find anything to laugh about in this case, changes in attitude may indeed make us all go insane.

 

For More Information:

Below is a link to a more recent update – dated April 17, 2014, from Scott Richrath, CDOT Chief Financial Officer and Scott McDaniel, CDOT Acting Chief Engineer to the Transportation Commission:

http://www.coloradodot.info/about/transportation-commission/current-agenda-and-supporting-documents/01-program-management-workshop.pdf

Colorado Bridge Enterprise Fund:  http://www.coloradodot.info/programs/BridgeEnterprise

CDOT SH 82/Grand Avenue Bridge website:  http://www.coloradodot.info/projects/sh82grandavenuebridge

 

 

 

So . . . what do we do with the traffic?

Question.  Where does all the traffic go during the Grand Avenue Bridge construction?

This question may not keep you up at night, but I guarantee it is keeping some folks awake.

Even with what the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) terms an “accelerated bridge construction” dealing with the day to day challenge of getting from the north side of the Colorado River to the south side and back may be –shall we say – a “challenge.”  Accelerated bridge construction would necessitate the bridge being totally closed to traffic for approximately two months under a best case scenario. 

So what is the solution to getting people into and through Glenwood Springs during this potentially painful period?

Introducing . . .  the “8th Street Connection”

The current expectation is that CDOT will be allowed to temporarily cut the railroad track in the wye area and build a temporary detour from the bridge that spans the Roaring Fork north of Veltus Park to 8th street, in front of Glenwood Springs City Hall and the Garfield County Courthouse.  This will come with the approval of the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

Temp_8th_Street_Connection

Graphic courtesy of Craig Gaskill, and Jacobs Engineering

Currently, vehicles coming from Midland Avenue into the downtown must use an underpass along 7th Street.  This underpass does not meet minimum CDOT height and width requirements. Trucks are the biggest concern. In order to use 7th Street, the street would need to be lowered or the tracks raised.  This connection is also a very dangerous path for pedestrians and bicyclists.


Current 7th Street Connection to Midland Avenue 6-15-13 - SMALL

It is anticipated that Midland Avenue to 27th Street and the Sunlight Bridge will also carry a fair amount of detour traffic, particularly for those heading up-valley.  However, there are concerns with the Sunlight Bridge.  CDOT is planning some improvements to that bridge in anticipation of construction.

An 8th Street Connection also affords the City of Glenwood an additional opportunity to accomplish a major goal – a permanent connection linking Midland Avenue to 8th Street.   City staff and City Council members, in a recent workshop with the city’s Transportation Ted_quoteCommission, made it clear that this 8th Street Connection now tops the list of city priorities.  According to City Council member Ted Edmonds, “The City Council has been very clear to staff — this is the number one priority. This is the biggest deal that is on our plate. This is the thing that should take precedence over other projects, if necessary.”

With so many stakeholders in the process,  there are many loose ends and unknowns.  However,  it is also an excellent example of the partnership between Glenwood Springs and CDOT and, potentially, others that could be beneficial to all.

 

What’s the big deal?Question_Mark

You may wonder why this is truly a BIG deal for the city. Here are seven reasons city staff, city council and the transportation commission must continue to make this the top priority:

  1. A permanent connection increases the connectivity and improves the circulation within the city of Glenwood Springs, a goal of the Comprehensive Plan, the Corridor Optimization Plan and the Long Range Transportation Plan
  2. Without at least a temporary connection, CDOT could opt to scrap the accelerated bridge construction in favor of a more drawn out process, one that could last 12 to 18 months but would allow traffic to still use the Grand Avenue Bridge or
  3. Midland Avenue to 27th Street could be used as the primary detour route for trucks which would impact the residents along Midland to a greater degree
  4. The city would lose the opportunity to have some of the costs for a permanent connection paid for by CDOT in association with the Grand Avenue Bridge project
  5. It will greatly improve pedestrian and bicycle safety from the Red Mountain area and Two River’s Park to the downtown area
  6. It will connect the downtown to the Confluence area and the potential commercial, housing, and recreational uses that may be developed.
  7. This connection has the potential to positively affect RFTA by providing a more direct route and easier passage for their buses.  

The public will have the opportunity to weigh in on this connection at some point in the future as it moves through City Council.  However, you don’t have to wait!  Please take a few minutes to let me know what you think now!

No such thing as bad press

Context?

There is a saying “There’s no such thing as bad press.”   It depends on who you talk to whether they believe that.  My guess is the British Petroleum (BP) folks aren’t buying it.  Probably the people at Weber Shandwick, the public relations firm for Obamacare, are not fond of the critical press.   Paula Deen and Chris Christie probably do not like the negative media attention either.    

Post Independent Front Page smallerWhile I wouldn’t call Michael Bennett’s OP/ED piece in the January 29, 2014 Glenwood Post Independent “bad press,” but it gave me pause to think that I might have taken his quote out of context, so I went back to double check.   To take something out of context essentially means to remove it from the surrounding context – misrepresenting the intent.   In looking back at the article – which is all I have, and the fact that the OP/ED was about the Grand Avenue Bridge and a bypass – it does not seem out of context to me.  However, I could be wrong.  I will give you the first two paragraphs of Bennett’s column and a link to go back and re-read the articles if you choose.

“Located in the heart of downtown Glenwood Springs, we are always trying to provide     access to different views. The Grand Avenue bridge controversy is a hot button for many. Wondering out loud, how many people really care?

Coming across the bridge with an 18-wheeler next to you can be a harrowing experience. My guess is that the vast majority of drivers just want to get through our town as quickly as possible. What a shame those people don’t have a bypass”

‘Nuff said.

HandshakeThe bottom line is I am very grateful to Mike and Drew Munro for printing the article.  The fact that section was not edited out – which they certainly could have done – shows journalistic ethics and integrity.  I am looking forward to writing some additional “commentaries” for the PI.  Here’s to a long-term partnership with both Mike and Drew to make Glenwood Springs the very best it can be.

Links to the Post Independent :

January 14 OP/ED by Mike Bennett:  http://www.postindependent.com/news/9748549-113/downtown-bridge-bypass-avenue

January 22 Commentary by Kathy Trauger:  http://www.postindependent.com/opinion/9866586-113/glenwood-avenue-char-grand

January 28 OP/ED by Mike Bennett: http://www.postindependent.com/opinion/9952293-113/business-column-context-kathy

 

With Public Sentiment, Nothing Can Fail

Lincoln“In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.”

Abraham Lincoln

Many decisions are not easy. Challenging decisions, where there are no clear-cut answers are particularly troublesome.  For City Council, whose decisions will affect the citizens of Glenwood Springs for years, these decisions weigh very heavily.  I have heard it said by those in this community that this Council does not listen to the citizens of Glenwood Springs.   I believe the events within council chambers tonight might make at least a few people think otherwise.

The above Lincoln quote was from the Lincoln-Douglas Debate of 1858 and it has certainly held true this evening.  Public sentiment has been building for an elevator option only for the Grand Avenue Pedestrian Bridge, which, once again was evidenced by the citizens who addressed Council this evening.

While there are indeed benefits to having a ramp included in the design, the overwhelming public sentiment was that, at this time, given these circumstances, an elevator would be the best choice for Glenwood Springs for now and into the future. 

double elevator from 7th & Cooper

Not everyone was in agreement.  As Jeremy Hyman pointed out, Jim Charlier of Charlier & Associates, who presented a white paper to City Council analyzing the costs and benefits, had once stated that Glenwood needs to be at the forefront of the bicycle tourism movement due to the world class biking we have available.  That means convenient access to downtown and a good connection with the bike paths and routes in the area. He did not think that could be met with an elevator only option.                 

However, many, including Leslie Bethel, Charlie Willman, Dean Gordon, Bob Patillo, David Hauter, Steve Carver, and others spoke of the vision for Glenwood. That vision does not include a ramp.  We were reminded that the citizens of Glenwood, among them Floyd Diemoz, who also spoke this evening, were not content with the original vision of Glenwood Canyon and said, “we can do better” and “better” ended up with a truly world famous design that moves vehicles through our canyon without destroying it.

The citizens of Glenwood Springs are a tough group with extremely high standards and expectations.  And, in this case, City Council listened.  There were many on council who, in the beginning, staunchly favored a ramp.  To paraphrase Councilman Stephen Bershenyi, it is sometime hard to see past what is already in place to vision what could be. 

http___www.coloradodot.info_projects_sh82grandavenuebridge_assets_PedRampElevatorCityCouncilPacketDecember192013

The ongoing operational costs were a sticking point for both Mayor Leo McKinney and Councilman Matt Steckler.  “How are we going to pay for this?” was an issue raised by Mayor McKinney.  That argument is absolutely valid.  The city is facing a deficit in the 2014 budget.  However, as Councilman Michael Gamba pointed out, this is not a cost that will be incurred tomorrow.  The City has some time to figure out the best funding mechanism, which could include lease payments from the planned improvements along the north side of 7th Street to allow those restaurants to have outdoor dining, from street vendors along the pedestrian bridge or other sources. 

Councilman Ted Edmonds pointed out that not only do we need to look at the potential costs the city will incur, but also the potential for enhanced revenue from an superior experience that both tourists and locals will have. 

Usually the one listening and taking notes, I found it impossible not to add my two cents into the discussion this evening.  As I mentioned to Council, I can – and have – argued both sides of this argument.  I think being fiscally responsible is critical.  However, in this case, the ongoing costs, even at the highest estimate, were less than I thought they might be.   In this case, the vision, and the aspirations I have for Glenwood weighed more heavily than the potential ongoing cost.  Like many others, I asked Council to consider the option proposed for two elevators with a backup generator.

So what were my reasons?  I think it best meets the intent of the Comprehensive Plan adopted by the City in 2011 as well as providing reasonable ADA access. The Comp Plan specifically stated that a goal was to “ensure an attractive community.”  As Mr. Hyman and Mayor McKinney noted we need to continue to build interconnectivity and promote multimodal transportation.  However, I don’t see the elevator option as excluding that.  Additionally, there is ongoing discussion about ways to enhance the connectivity with the Rio Grande Trail and the Glenwood Canyon bike path.

So, yes, like several Council members, I have come full circle on this item after sifting through  a lot of information and listening to the “public sentiment.”  Council voted, by a five to two vote, to move forward with a recommendation for a double elevator with a backup generator. Councilor Stecker and Mayor McKinney cast the dissenting votes.

As Ms. Bethel stated, Glenwood Springs is at the cusp of some very exciting things happening.  It is time to take Glenwood Springs from a really “cool” town into a world-class resort community.  Now is not the time to cut corners. Now is the time to have the vision for what Glenwood “could” be as our business and civic leaders did years ago with Glenwood Canyon.  And public . . . are you listening?  Public sentiment and public involvement DOES matter.  “With public sentiment, nothing can fail!” 

 

Elevators, Ramps and the Bottom Line

City Council chambers were once again overflowing a little over a week ago.  Nothing seems to bring this town out like a bridge discussion.  The agenda item wasn’t the auto bridge, but again the discussion of the pedestrian bridge and the question was ramp or elevator to get people from 7th Street to the pedestrian bridge.  In the interest of full disclosure, I want to let everyone know that I sit on two city commissions, Planning and Zoning Commission and Transportation Commission that have weighed in on this choice.  Both of these commissions voted to recommend a ramp over an elevator for a number of reasons.  Neither commission had a unanimous vote. I have also recently been asked to join the Grand Avenue Bridge Project Leadership Team.

Option A - Elevator and Stairs

Option A – Elevator and Stairs

After weighing the information given up until now, I have been a proponent of a ramp for a number of reasons. While aesthetically I like the idea of an elevator, my concerns have been with the ongoing maintenance costs, the ability of the city to adequately provide ADA compliant alternatives during system failures, questionable liability issues, safety and sanitation issues. As one member of council pointed out, maintaining an elevator outside is a bit different than those housed within a building.  I questioned whether it was fiscally responsible for the city to step into an unknown. Oregon City, Oregon has an outdoor municipal elevator that has been in existence since 1915.  Recently the city of Springfield Massachusetts has elected to replace an elevator on their Connecticut River Walk Park with a ramp due to ongoing issues with the elevator. http://www.wggb.com/2013/07/05/elevator-out-ramp-in-for-river-walk-bridge/

Option B - Short Ramp

Option B – Short Ramp

My other concerns about an elevator over a ramp came primarily from a tourism and transportation standpoint, particularly because Glenwood Springs and the downtown area in particular, are at the heart of a truly unique trail system that attracts bicyclists nationwide. Frankly, I want a system that works well for them, including those bicycles pulling trailers.

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and many business owners, primarily those along 7th Street, but other businesses and citizens as well, came forward imploring City Council to “do the right thing” for Glenwood, for business, for those with disabilities. They indicated a ramp would inhibit the redevelopment of 7th Street and impact the view for years. Those advocating for the disabled thought the length and the grade of the ramp would be a hindrance to those who are physically challenged, particularly those in wheelchairs.

Option C - Long Ramp

Option C – Long Ramp

Leslie Bethel, Director of the DDA stated that she thought there were ways to manage the ongoing costs. Ok, now I am interested.  Currently the DDA has two revenue sources; property tax and sales tax through a TIF or Tax Increment Financing. The DDA also currently has outstanding loans to the City of Glenwood.  The 2014 City budget indicates revenues of $404,573 and expenditures of $1,471,378.  I asked Leslie what she had in mind as far as assisting the city with ongoing maintenance and she indicated the DDA will be meeting November 19th to discuss possibilities. So what are the options?

Colorado Springs has Special Improvement Maintenance Districts (SIMD).  These districts proved landscape maintenance for streetscapes, lighting, signage etc.  They also take care of snow removal in the winter month.  Pasadena California’s “Old Pasadena Management District”, is a non-profit business organization that “creatively plans, manages and develops Old Pasadena as a unique, authentic and vibrant downtown experience.”  They provide security, marketing and maintenance. The operations are financed through an annual tax assessment on privately owned commercial property.

City Council made no decision at their last meeting. They opted to continue the item and asked for some specific information including:

  • The cost of a lift versus an elevator
  • Could the city get two lifts for the price of one elevator?
  • Would a lift be large enough to carry a bicycle and a trailer?
  • Exactly what is CDOT willing/able to pay for?
  • A draft intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between CDOT and the City outlining the responsibilities for each for maintenance, repair, replacement, etc. of the pedestrian bridge, ramp and or elevator/lift.
  • The cost of ensuring that an ADA accessible van or bus would be available on very short notice
  •  What entities in the area could provide that service and would that also require an IGA?
  • What could the DDA do to help with funding of ongoing costs?
  • What additional city personnel services would be required of either a ramp, elevator or both including maintenance and security?
  • On what are the cost estimates in CDOT’s matrix based – where does the information originate and are there other comparatives?
  • Figures on operation and maintenance costs for both a ramp and an elevator/lift
  • More information on what is required of the ADA, particularly regarding routine maintenance, downtime, service requirements and response time for alternate methods should the elevator/lift be inoperable
  • Would like to see a rendering of dual lifts versus one or more elevators.

I would throw out one additional piece of information that is needed:

  • What is the city’s liability regarding elevator/lift versus a ramp?

After listening to the DDA and the business folks talk about the compelling need for an elevator and stairway combination – NOT a ramp, a few questions come to mind.  If this is truly the “will of the people” and will serve the best interests of the entire community, are the business and property owners within the DDA, GID, and/or the people of Glenwood Springs ready to step up to the plate to fund a redundant system, most likely two elevators or lifts as well as the ongoing insurance, maintenance, and safety expenses?  Is it up to the city to go above providing for the basic needs? If the DDA is already operating with a deficit, will they be able to take on additional expense necessary for operation of elevators/lifts?   Should the city consider some funding mechanism like a Transportation Utility Fee if the elevator is selected? Who will bear the burden of that expense?  Are there other solutions that have not been considered?  The bottom line is that we need to determine who pays for a great vision and doing the right thing.   What are your thoughts?

 

 

 

Valid Opinions or answers to the wrong questions?

Ballot Envelope

Ballot Envelope

Husband:  Hey, we got a ballot in the mail.  I didn’t know there was an election.

Me: There isn’t.  Is it for the Grand Avenue Bridge?

Husband: From Citizens to Save Grand Avenue.

Me: I heard that was coming.  They are trying to get a reading on what the citizens want.

Husband: So who gets to fill it out? There is only one. What if we don’t agree?

Me:  Hmmm, good point . . .

So if you live in the City of Glenwood Springs you may have received an envelope addressed to Local Postal Customer.  This is a well-intended effort on the part of the group Citizen’s to Save Grand Avenue to see how the citizens of Glenwood Springs feel about the replacement of the Grand Avenue Bridge.  It looks fairly official.  It is stamped BALLOT on the front but clarifies on the top of the ballot that it is a Public Opinion Ballot.  It comes with arguments for and against. 

The wording on the ballot states that “This ballot is sponsored by Citizens to Save Grand Avenue and will allow you to express your choices regarding the current plan to replace the Grand Avenue Bridge.”  Then it asks the questions:

A. Should the Glenwood Spring City Council stop the current plan allowing the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to replace the current Grand Avenue Bridge

B. Should the Glenwood Spring City Council initiate long-range planning with CDOT now to get Hwy 82 off Grand Avenue?

Then there is a place for two printed names and signatures along with addresses.

While I admire the spunk of the C2SGA group there are at least three issues with this ballot that will essentially render any results invalid.

The first problem is that of a false choice.  Question A intimates that the city has the authority to allow or disallow CDOT to replace the bridge on a State Highway.  This is simply not the case. The State of Colorado, specifically Colorado Department of Transportation, is responsible for the 9,146 mile highway system that includes 3,447 bridges. The Grand Avenue Bridge has been deemed functionally obsolete due to four deficiencies:

  • The bridge is too narrow with lane widths of 9’4”
Narrow lanes on bridge - Photo courtesy of CDOT

Narrow lanes on bridge – Photo courtesy of CDOT

  • There is insufficient vertical clearance at 7th Street – as low as 12’ in some areas
  • Substandard  horizontal clearance along I-70 eastbound to the bridge piers
  • Substandard horizontal clearance along I-70 westbound to the bridge piers
    Bridge Piers Adjacent to I-70. Photo Courtesy of CDOT

    Bridge Piers Adjacent to I-70. Photo Courtesy of CDOT

     

The bridge was rated “satisfactory” in a bridge inspection in 2010.  However, there are signs of deteriorations in the concrete curbs and piers, exposed reinforcing steel on the curbs and piers, corrosion on the railing, girder corrosion, damage at 7th Street due to vehicle impact, and corrosion on bridge supports. Additionally, the load capacity is 55% of new bridge design standards.

The funding is through the Colorado Bridge Enterprise (CBE) and assuming that after the devastating flooding on the eastern slope there are still funds available, this fund is to be used for bridge repair and/or replacement only.

The bottom line is that CDOT is working with the City of Glenwood Springs, but it is CDOT’s responsibility to make sure that the bridges on their state highway system are safe.  If they are not, they will be repaired or replaced at the will of the State. The city cannot tell CDOT to stop. If the State determines the bridge needs to be replaced due to safety concerns, CDOT will take whatever steps necessary to get the job done.  

The second problem is with question B.  I doubt there are many that would say the City should NOT explore some other options for routes in/out and around our town. This was particularly apparent during the Coal Seam Fire. However, it is important to keep in mind this has been the topic of discussion for at least 50 years.  The problem goes back to the dialog between me and my husband.  We often disagree on the best choice, whether it is where to go for dinner or what brand of appliance to buy or what route to take to a favorite camping spot.  So it goes for Glenwood.  The Citizens of Glenwood have NEVER come to a consensus on where or if there should be ways to get through or around town that do not include Grand Avenue. Perhaps there has not been enough vision about ALL of the possibilities.  Perhaps just one more study will provide the answer.  But question B indicates “long-range” planning.  I am not sure our sick old bridge will be around long enough to see what a long-range plan will be.  Can we afford to take the chance with the lives of thousands of people who cross it daily?

The third problem again goes back to my conversation with my husband and the fact that we may not agree with each other.   I am not a statistician, or a have I ever conducted a sampling but it seems to me that a sampling error is possible.

As sociologist Herbert Gans stated that “polls are answers to questions rather than opinions.”  The answers you get are only as good as the questions you ask.   But, I’ve got to admire their determination!

What do you think?

 

Grand Avenue Pedestrian Bridge – What do you think?

The following is a press release from CDOT regarding the Grand Avenue Pedestrian Bridge

News From
The Colorado Department
of Transportation
www.coloradodot.info
Twitter: @coloradodot

Contact: Nancy Shanks, CDOT Public Relations
(970) 385-1428 or (970) 749-3579 mobile
Joe Elsen, CDOT Program Engineer
(970) 384-3332 office, (970) 379-9532 mobile
August 19, 2013
Grand Ave. Bridge EA – Enthusiastic Support for the New Pedestrian Bridge Type

Ped Bridge 1

Glenwood Springs City Council favors simple ped bridge design that complements surrounding environment

GLENWOOD SPRINGS –At an August 1, 2013, workshop with Glenwood Springs City Council, a pedestrian bridge that focused on historic elements consistent with downtown Glenwood Springs was unanimously favored. This was consistent with what the project team had heard from public comments on pedestrian bridge types and features at public meetings, Strawberry Days exhibits and Downtown Market events.

A new pedestrian bridge was not originally part of the Grand Avenue Bridge project. The concept was introduced as part of the overall solution last fall when the project team began looking at how to demolish and construct the highway bridge. There are numerous utilities under the highway bridge that will have to be relocated before the existing bridge can be removed and replaced. The most efficient way to relocate these utilities was to place them on a new pedestrian bridge. The new pedestrian bridge also facilitates accelerated bridge construction techniques, important on this project to minimize impacts.

As this concept was considered in the evaluation process, it became apparent that a new pedestrian bridge would address almost all of the project criteria, including multimodal connectivity; safety and consistency with regional planning. As well, it has the potential to offer better harmony within the community, have reduced overall construction costs, minimize impacts to private property, and reduce overall impacts.

Ped bridge 2

The benefits and issues to consider in replacing the pedestrian bridge were presented at a combined Project Leadership Team/Project Working Group meeting back in October 2012. In November, the project team asked the Stakeholder Working Group to comment on the advantages and disadvantages of a new pedestrian bridge and what the bridge might look like. After initial input from this group, the project team developed a list of 14 potential bridge types that could be considered.

Attendees at the January 9, 2013, Public Open House commented on the 14 bridge type options and how some of them would look when paired with different Grand Avenue Bridge options. In addition to improving on the functionality of the existing bridge, public input suggested that the new pedestrian bridge would need to complement the highway bridge, accommodate both pedestrians and bicycles, and incorporate the aesthetics and historic details that fit the historic context of Glenwood Springs.

The project team considered the public and stakeholder comments at a bridge design workshop held in February. The team’s bridge architect, engineers, and environmental experts discussed the merits and disadvantages of a wide range of bridge types. After two days of discussion, the project team narrowed the 14 options to three options to be considered in more detail. These options were: 1) a single-tower, cable-stayed symmetric span bridge (two equal spans); 2) a single-tower, cable-stayed asymmetric-span bridge (spans of different lengths); and 3) an arch bridge that spans from the south bank to north of I-70.

During the discussions and subsequent evaluations, the project team evaluated the bridge types using several criteria: environmental impacts, site constraints/opportunities, aesthetics, constructability/phasing, schedule, maintenance, cost, span, and other impacts.
Renderings and models were presented to the Glenwood Springs City Council, other stakeholders, and the public while conceptual design details were being developed. There was no overwhelming support for any one of the options. After feedback was received on May 30 from the Stakeholder Working Group and the City Council voiced concerns that the current options did not reflect the character of the community, the project team reset their direction and developed three bridge types to present to the City Council on August 1.

“All of the bridge types we have considered would meet the purpose and need of the project, and would work from an engineering perspective,” CDOT Region 3 Central Program Engineer Joe Elsen said. “The public process helped us come up with the best solution for the community. We listened, redesigned, and now have what we believe to be a winning option that will be cost-effective to design and build.”

The current bridge type is what is called a five-span, variable-depth girder bridge. The 16-foot-wide bridge would be supported by girders under the deck rather than cables and towers above the deck, features found to block the views of the mountains and the river. The bridge would also clear span the Colorado River and incorporate several shorter towers with architectural elements consistent with the historic character of Glenwood Springs. It would accommodate both pedestrians and bicyclists, with the potential for overlooks and other amenities.

Ped bridge 3

Gaining the endorsement of the City Council at their August 1st meeting and input from the individuals who have viewed the renderings at the Tuesday Downtown Markets means that the project team can start developing additional design details.

Ped Bridge 4

“Arriving at one solution from where we started was the result of the community’s vision for a context-sensitive design, an open and public process, and a talented group of bridge architects and engineers who were open to considering the range of options until we got it right,” Elsen said.

The public can see conceptual renderings in the lobby of the Glenwood Springs City Hall, 101 West 8th Street. The model will also be available every other week at the Downtown Market in Centennial Park Tuesdays from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Those wanting to receive project updates can sign up via CDOT’s free message system by going to http://www.coloradodot.info/ and clicking on green cell phone in the upper right hand side of the page. After signing in, scroll down to “Projects” and choose “SH 82 Aspen to Glenwood.”

The project is funded through the Colorado Bridge Enterprise, a government-owned business entity within CDOT. The Colorado General assembly created the statewide Bridge Enterprise via Senate Bill 09-108, also known as FASTER (Funding Advancements for Surface Treatment and Economic Recovery)

http://www.coloradodot.info/programs/transitandrail/resource-materials-new/TRACdocument-SB09-108(FASTER)/view.
http://www.coloradodot.info/programs/BridgeEnterprise

The purpose of the Bridge Enterprise is to complete designated bridge projects that involve the financing, repair, reconstruction and replacement of bridges designated as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, and rated “poor” by CDOT.