Granite Construction – Grand Avenue Bridge

Granite picA replacement bridge over the Colorado River will make for a smoother entrance into the resort community of Glenwood Springs.

By Tim O’Connor

Glenwood Springs, Colo., is a town that relies on tourism. Located about an hour from the famous ski slopes of Aspen, the resort community is busy year-round as vacationers seek out its hot springs, bike trails and rafting rapids. The local economy is intertwined with recreation, but with only one major road through town, it’s understandable that residents are skeptical of any project that might drive visitors away.

In the 1990s, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) tried to replace the Grand Avenue Bridge – which spans the Colorado River and I-70 to serve as the only access point into downtown Glenwood Springs from the north – but the plan was defeated by local opposition. The need for a replacement bridge has only grown in the past two decades as the structure continued to deteriorate. Determined to come up with a project the public would support, CDOT sought out a contractor that would engage residents to lessen the impact of construction and detours on the community. It found that partner in Granite Construction Inc.

“I think we were a good fit because we have the knowledge and the understanding of how to build a complicated project in these downtown, urban landscape areas where you have a lot more PI [public input] and public perception guiding the project,” Project Manager Pat Kalisz says.

Granite Construction, and its joint venture partner, Ralph L. Wadsworth Construction, hired a public relations firm to keep the public informed and provide communication between the project and residents. Meetings were held with community groups and downtown businesses weekly at first and then monthly as construction progressed and the community became more confident in the project. “As we’ve progressed and people see what we’re doing and gotten used to our construction, [they] understand we’re not impacting them as much as they thought we would,” Kalisz says.

Transit Upgrades

The 60-year-old bridge suffered from structural problems and did not meet the traffic capacity needs for the area. When it open, the Grand Avenue bridge was built with only two traffic lanes and sidewalks in both directions. Increasing traffic counts eventually forced CDOT to remove the sidewalks to create a four-lane bridge. However, the adjustment resulted in 9-foot wide lanes, 3 feet shorter than the standard. In all, the bridge was only 37 feet wide, creating a stressful crossing for motorists who could afford to drift only a few inches within their tight lanes. It width was even more problematic for semi-trucks, which often had to take up two full lanes on the bridge. Granite box

The new Grand Avenue bridge will solve the width issue. It will still  carry traffic on only four lanes, but the bridge will have shoulders and a median separating the direction of traffic. The bridge will be 60 feet wide at its narrowest point and 78 at its apex. Despite the extra breathing room for cars and trucks, the speed limit will remain unchanged at 25 mph because the bridge is an entry point into Glenwood Springs’ historic downtown.

The new bridge will be strictly for vehicles. CDOT chose to rebuild a separate, 600-foot-long pedestrian bridge alongside the Grand Avenue Bridge partially to speed up construction and lessen the disruption of the project. The pedestrian bridge will contain all of the utilities that previously were built into the original bridge. “That was the main reason we needed to get the pedestrian bridge rebuilt, because we needed a utility bridge,” Kalisz says.

Already, four of the five utility lines have been moved from the original bridge into the pedestrian overpass. Moving the utilities was a priority to ease the construction process for the rest of the project. As a result, the pedestrian bridge is already semi-open and should be fully completed by July 4 once elevators are installed for ADA compliance.

Team Approach

Work on the new bridge began in January 2016 and is on pace to be completed by summer 2018. As of May, the bridge was more than half complete, according to Kalisz. Crews made the first deck pour on the bridge in the first week of May and were expected to complete all the pours by the end of the month. Work has also begun on the bridge walls and realigning the approach to the north entrance.

The project is a joint venture between Granite and Ralph L. Wadsworth Construction Co. Kalisz says this is the third time the companies have worked together in the past 10 years. Instead of each specializing in a specific  area, both companies divide the work equally. “It’s a joint venture that’s more of a team,” Kalisz explains. “It’s not really ‘you’re doing this and you’re doing that.’ We’re doing the whole project together.”

The ease of that collaboration has been an asset in tackling the geographical challenges of the site. The bridge spans the Colorado River, I-70, and two railroad lines, creating several obstacles and a tight work zone. Navigating those problems requires clear communication and flexible scheduling between Granite, Wadsworth and their subcontractors. Dispatch meetings are held daily where the contractors and subs go over their upcoming work and determine the flow of activity on the site.

The construction challenges are going to become even more complicated in August when the entire Grand Avenue bridge is completely shut down for 95 days. “Right now there are two ways to get to the city and we are taking away one of those routes,” Kalisz says. Traffic will be rerouted onto a two-lane city street. The project team is already raising awareness and trying to help residents develop strategies to cope with the inevitable delays.

The three-month shutdown will be one of the most difficult stretches for the project, but Kalisz is confident the people and messaging methods are in place to minimize the impact on the community. “We’ve built a pretty good rapport over the past year and I think for the most part we’ve been able to work with each other,” Kalisz says of the team.

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