It’s not often that Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert agrees with Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper.
When it comes to the city of Glenwood Springs’ long sought-after South Bridge project, though, the three members of Colorado’s congressional delegation were unanimous — the infrastructure undertaking is critical.
“This is about safety and protecting the people of Colorado and our constituents. That’s a really easy thing to support,” Deputy Chief and Communications Director for Congresswoman Lauren Boebert Benjamin Stout said in an interview on Friday. “We’re still trying to figure out the best way to be supportive. Those conversations are kind of ongoing right now. I believe that we’re just starting to draft some things up.”
In 2002, a coal seam fire forced the evacuation of thousands of Glenwood Springs residents and illustrated the need for an additional escape route for motorists. South Bridge, if constructed, would serve as one of two — paved — evacuation routes for thousands of south Glenwood Springs and Garfield County residents.
Since then, the city of Glenwood Springs has applied for grants and set aside roughly $20 million worth of bonding capacity through its Acquisition and Improvement (A&I) Fund for the more than $50 million infrastructure project.
Although Boebert has not issued a formal letter of support for the South Bridge project, Stout indicated that one would be released in the “immediate future.”
The city of Glenwood Springs is currently seeking $27 million through a FEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant. According to a May 5 letter signed by Bennet and Hickenlooper and addressed to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, both senators described the South Bridge project as being “critical.”
“This project is critical to protect residents living in a geographically constricted area with minimal emergency escape routes available,” Bennet and Hickenlooper said in their joint letter to Criswell. “If awarded, the city will fund the South Bridge Resilient Infrastructure Project to ensure safe ingress and egress for emergency vehicles and evacuees in the event of wildfires, coal seam fires and other hazards.”
If ever constructed, South Bridge would take off near the Midland and Four Mile Avenue roundabout, tunnel beneath the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport’s runway, cross the Roaring Fork River and eventually land on State Highway 82.
“It’s truly a lifesaver,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes said of South Bridge’s connection route. “Urgency, I think, has only amplified.”
On July 3, 2018 the Lake Christine Fire ignited on Basalt Mountain due to individuals shooting flammable tracer rounds amid fire restrictions. The Lake Christine Fire destroyed three homes and forced the evacuation of countless residents in Basalt and El Jebel.
On Aug. 10, 2020 the Grizzly Creek Fire completely shut down Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon for two weeks and burned more than 32,000 acres. Like the Lake Christine Fire, the Grizzly Creek Fire was also human-caused.
“If we did a poll today about the citizens and their view of if [South Bridge] is needed or not, I would be shocked if that didn’t poll in the 90th percentile,” Godes said.
However, “support” for a project and actual funding toward it are different.
With roughly $20 million worth of its own bonding capacity set aside and an additional $4 million commitment from the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, the city of Glenwood Springs has long hoped other entities, namely Garfield County, would help bridge the project’s multimillion-dollar funding gap.
“Our position is, we don’t have any money to put into a $60 million project,” Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said in an interview on Friday. “Yes, they’re going to go for a grant. It’s outside their jurisdiction — it’s in the county. The county has said, ‘You need to solve your airport problem first.’”
Martin disputed the city’s estimated cost for South Bridge, believing it would cost well over $60 million to construct.
“We’re not even ready to say we’d help fund it,” Martin said. “All of these questions need to be answered and all of these issues need to be resolved before we even sit down and talk about money.”