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February 8, 2013
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Rio Grande bridge: make it 'iconic'?

ASPEN - If a new bridge is to span the Roaring Fork River outside Aspen, maybe there's a chance to make it an architectural landmark and get someone else to pay for it, a member of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board of Trustees suggested Thursday.

Bridges can be "iconic structures," Hawk Greenway said, urging the board to consider a design competition for the bridge. He envisions both the contest and construction of the bridge being financed with private dollars from someone who'd like to be associated with the structure. Greenway said he has no particular person in mind.

"I don't have someone in my back pocket. It's total speculation on my part," he said.

One option for providing a paved alternative to the Rio Grande Trail between Woody Creek and Aspen involves installation of the bridge. A span similar to the Tiehack bridge over Maroon Creek, which connects the Aspen Recreation Center and the Tiehack side of Buttermilk, has been identified as a likely design.

"I'm wondering if we're making an assumption that a Tiehack-style bridge is the bridge and missing an opportunity," said Greenway, who said he Googled "the 10 most beautiful bridges" and came up with many opinions.

"There are some bridges that are just jaw-dropping, stunningly beautiful," he said.

The open space board already has recommended to county commissioners that an engineering feasibility study and design work be done for a Tiehack-like bridge, at a cost of about $300,000. Actual construction of such a bridge is expected to cost $2 million to $2.5 million.

Commissioners are scheduled to hear a presentation on Rio Grande Trail options Tuesday; it would be awkward to switch gears at this point, said Dale Will, open space and trails director.

"You really are talking about retroactively halting this process and changing your recommendation," he said.

A Tiehack-style bridge has been considered because the span over Maroon Creek seems to have been accepted as aesthetically pleasing by the community, Will said.

Estimates for a suspension bridge could be added to the scope of the engineering work, though, the board was told.

Board member Tai Jacober was the most enthusiastic backer of Greenway's idea.

"I totally agree," he said.

The board agreed, however, to stick with its recommendation to commissioners to proceed with engineering and design work for the Tiehack-style bridge. That way, the county will have design work for a bridge ready to go but still could switch gears if some other opportunity emerges, Greenway said.

The Tiehack pedestrian bridge is an arch bridge that has abutments on both sides but is slightly longer than 600 feet without a pillar in the middle. The Maroon Creek gorge, 175 feet below, was left undisturbed by the structure.

When it was built, in 2002, it was the longest arch bridge in Colorado and the second-longest bridge of any kind in the state, officials said. Its total price tag was about $2.4 million, but it was still the cheapest option, Aspen Parks Director Jeff Woods said at the time.

Pitkin County hasn't decided to build a bridge over the Roaring Fork, but it's an option under consideration to provide a paved trail link that bypasses about two miles of the gravel stretch of the Rio Grande Trail outside Aspen. Simply paving the trail also has been considered, but the scenic gravel stretch has its fans.

An estimated $6.2 million option includes the bridge and paved route on the Highway 82 side of the river, plus upgrades to the gravel piece below Stein Park, where about two miles would remain unpaved. Roughly another two miles, on the Woody Creek end, would become a dual-surface trail, with both gravel and paved options.

The county commissioners' discussion of the Rio Grande Trail options begins at 1 p.m. Tuesday in their Plaza One meeting room.

janet@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Feb 8, 2013 06:27AM Published Feb 8, 2013 01:49AM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.