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November 18, 2004
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State finds funds for new bridge

Construction of a new Maroon Creek bridge could be under way next spring, thanks to Thursday's state approval of $10.4 million to construct the span.The Colorado Transportation Commission, meeting yesterday in Denver, approved the allocation, state Department of Transportation officials announced to cheers at a meeting of upper-valley elected officials late Thursday afternoon."With any luck at all, at about this time in 2006, we could be cutting a ribbon, maybe," said Ralph Trapani, a former CDOT highway engineer who is now working on plans for the new bridge as a consultant. Trapani is deputy project manager with Parsons Transportation Group.The design work for the new bridge is on a fast track. It began in September and will be complete before early February, when CDOT intends to seek construction bids for the project. Upper-valley governments put up $1.5 million for the bridge design because CDOT didn't have the money."Normally, this would take a year to design. We're designing it in four months," said Karen Rowe, resident engineer at CDOT's Glenwood Springs office.And, typically, funding for a major highway project has been identified long before CDOT is on the verge of seeking bids from construction contractors, said Joe Elsen, CDOT program engineer in Glenwood Springs."It's odd for us to be at this stage of project development and have the funding come together at the same time," he said.Replacement of the ailing bridge has long been on a list of unfunded state highway projects. Its slow deterioration has made it a CDOT priority and Ed Fink, CDOT's regional transportation director, voiced hope last week that the state would have extra cash next year to put toward the project.The existing bridge, originally built as a railroad trestle in 1888, carries Highway 82 in and out of Aspen. Its life span has long worried local and state officials, as the highway is the only feasible route to carry traffic in and out of the resort.The bridge's sufficiency rating slipped to nine out of a possible 100 when inspectors recently discovered another cracked stone pier at its base. Its rating had been 24 and should be again after the crack is repaired, said Joe Elsen, CDOT program engineer in Glenwood Springs.Last year, CDOT temporarily closed the bridge to heavy trucks while it repaired more serious damage to the massive stones holding up one end of the bridge.Only newly elected Snowmass Town Councilman John Wilkinson voiced displeasure with the proposed new bridge when upper-valley officials convened Thursday as the Elected Officials Transportation Committee.The new bridge will require the removal of the existing pedestrian bridge that spans the Maroon Creek gorge alongside the highway bridge - a sticking point for Wilkinson."I have a major problem with the project," he said. "I see it as an unmitigated disaster for the pedestrians and users of that trail."The new bridge will occupy the space where the pedestrian bridge is currently located. There will be no avoiding the loss of a separate pedestrian crossing during construction, Trapani said. A shuttle van, going back and forth between bus stops on either end of the bridge, has been discussed to assist pedestrians during construction.Construction of the new bridge is expected to take roughly two years. If CDOT successfully selects a contractor through the bid process, a construction crew could be at the site by mid-April 2005, Trapani said.Because traffic will continue to use the existing bridge while construction is under way, disruptions should be minimal, he said. Rerouting the highway onto the new span when it's finished is likely to cause the most impact for motorists.The historic trestle bridge will remain after the new span is built; the old bridge may eventually be used for light rail in and out of Aspen. In the meantime, local officials have wondered if pedestrians couldn't continue to use it, though the new bridge will include its own bike/pedestrian lane.The new bridge deck will be 73 feet wide - enough to accommodate four lanes of traffic, including dedicated bus lanes in each direction. However, voter approval for the bus lanes is not in place. Instead, the new bridge is initially expected to carry just two lanes of traffic, one in each direction, plus 8-foot shoulders, a 12-foot bike/pedestrian lane and a 12-foot median.Janet Urquhart's e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Nov 19, 2004 09:31AM Published Nov 18, 2004 12:00AM Copyright 2004 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.