Financing details for new bridge over gorge to be discussed this week
Details on how to finance a $7.7 million project that includes a pedestrian bridge across the Roaring Fork River gorge which would connect the Rio Grande Trail and Airport Business Center will be presented this week.
The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board had asked for financing details earlier this month and staffers from the open space department are gathering that information to present on Thursday.
The bridge itself would cost about $2.5 million and would cross the river from the trail near what’s known as the W/J hill and connect to the south side of the river, about a half-mile west of the county’s public works building, which is downvalley from the ABC, according to Lindsey Utter, recreation planner for the open space program.
A new trail that would run along the frontage road of Highway 82 from the public works building and Colorado Mountain College area to connect to the city’s network, which starts near the Annie Mitchell housing complex at the ABC, would cost another $250,000.
And in order for pedestrians and cyclists on the new trail to cross safely at Baltic Avenue, which is the main road that leads into the ABC, an underpass is being contemplated that would cost between $1 million and $1.2 million.
Trail improvements at the ABC have been discussed and called for over the years, which is one of the impetuses for them to be included in this project, Utter said.
The plan was one of several options considered in the context of how to deal with the only four miles of unpaved section along the 42-mile Rio Grande Trail. The unpaved trail stretches from Woody Creek to Stein Park in Aspen.
By building a bridge that connects to the city of Aspen’s paved trail system that runs along Highway 82, two miles of the Rio Grande can remain unpaved, which many users have said they would prefer. The project would also create a hard surface route all the way into town, since users of the newly paved trail could take the new bridge and connect with the city trail.
Known as “option 4,” the project includes a two-mile dual surface on the Rio Grande of compressed gravel and pavement between where the trail crosses McLain Flats Road and just before the Shale Bluffs canyon. At that point, the trail would remain a gravel surface through the narrowest portion of the corridor to Stein Park, as it exists today. However, the gravel stretch would be maintained more frequently in an effort to smooth it out and deal with drainage issues in that area. That extra maintenance is estimated to cost $7,500 a year.
The two-mile dual surface trail is estimated to cost between $1.5 million and $1.7 million, which includes abutments and other amenities leading to the bridge. Improvements to the unpaved section would cost roughly $500,000, as well as the increased maintenance costs, Utter said.
Amenities around the bridge going over the gorge, including access points and abutments, would cost about $1 million. The lower Stein Bridge below the ABC, which can be accessed by steep trails on either side of the river, would require $250,000 in repairs under the proposal.
The recommendation of option 4 was made on Nov. 1 by the county’s open space and trails department to the board that governs the program. The option was selected after months of public outreach, surveys and feedback from user groups.
Dale Will, county open space and trails director, acknowledged at that meeting that option 4 would be the single-largest trail project the program has ever contemplated.
He said on Monday that the open space fund, which is fueled by property taxes, has about a $4 million balance. Roughly $10 million is generated annually by the tax. Completing option 4 would require financial partners because using all of the open space funds will tap out the program, and a certain percentage of the money is dedicated to parks, trails and maintenance, according to the Pitkin County charter.
“I don’t know how many other big projects we’ll be able to do,” Will said, adding that it’s unclear at this point exactly what option 4 will look like if it’s approved. “It’s important to leverage this project as much as we can.”
The project would have to get approval from the Pitkin County commissioners. If it’s signed off on, engineering and planning will consume most of next year and an application will be made to Great Outdoors Colorado for a grant to pay for a portion of the costs.
So far, the work that has gone into vetting the various options and selecting “option 4” has cost about $50,000, which has been paid to the engineering firm Lafayette, Colo.-based Loris and Associates, Inc.
The issue of whether to make the Rio Grande Trail a continuously paved corridor has been debated for years. Some, particularly road cyclists, argue that it ought to be. Others, like runners and equestrians, want to keep it as a soft surface.
Improvement options for the trail range in cost from nearly $704,000 to as much as $22 million. Log onto to www.pitkincountyrgt.org  for more details of the various alternatives and the current proposal.