Bridge design awaits funds | AspenTimes.com

Bridge design awaits funds

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Upper-valley governments may be willing to spend $1 million on final designs for a new Maroon Creek bridge with the hope of expediting the project.

Elected officials from Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County reviewed the preliminary engineering work last week that has been done on a new bridge, which would replace the 116-year-old span that currently carries Highway 82 over the Maroon Creek gorge.

The cost of the new bridge is estimated at $5.7 million, but the Colorado Department of Transportation has estimated the overall cost of the project at something closer to $25 million. That sum would include realigning the approaches and traffic control during construction.

Snowmass Town Councilman Arnie Mordkin was incredulous and his colleagues on the Elected Officials Transportation Committee asked for a detailed breakdown of the costs for their next meeting on the topic.

The EOTC is made up of elected officials from the three governments. It oversees the proceeds of a countywide, half-cent sales tax dedicated to transportation.

Along with a breakdown on project costs, staffers are expected to come back to the EOTC with a proposal to spend $1 million in local tax dollars to get final design plans for the new bridge completed, as CDOT does not have the funds to take that step.

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CDOT did allocate $140,000 for the preliminary engineering.

Some EOTC members expressed interest in paying for the design work, but only if it counts as local matching funds in a larger project down the road.

“We’re not spending a million dollars unless we get it to go to matching funds,” said Snowmass Mayor T. Michael Manchester.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is pursuing federal highway dollars for a planned Bus Rapid Transit system, or BRT. Local sources would be expected to put up 25 percent of what is pegged as a $102 million total cost for BRT, including $39 million for a fleet of new, alternative-fuel buses to serve the valley.

Since the new bridge would contain dedicated bus lanes, the $1 million spent on designs could count toward the local transit match for the BRT, EOTC members were told.

CDOT currently has no funds to build the new bridge, but money has a way of suddenly becoming available for projects that are ready to go, noted County Commissioner Mick Ireland. In addition, there may be federal bridge-replacement funds available for the project, he said.

“This may not be as far away as you think,” he said, urging the group to get the bridge designs ready. “I think there’s a case for spending money on design.”

In addition, though no one is predicting the old bridge will fail, it could be deemed inadequate for continued use at some point, Ireland said.

“It’s like having a 105-year-old grandmother. She’s in good health, but you don’t expect her to go another 20 years,” he said.

The existing bridge was originally constructed as a railroad trestle in 1888 and was converted for automobile use in 1929. It’s the oldest state highway bridge in service in Colorado and has a bridge sufficiency rating of 24 out of a possible 100 points, according to CDOT.

The engineering plans for a new bridge call for three end-to-end spans totaling 650 feet with two A-frame piers in the gorge to support them.

The highway deck itself would be 61 feet wide to carry four lanes of traffic, including two dedicated bus lanes, along with a 4-foot median and 2-foot shoulders on each side. A separate, 16-foot-wide trail bridge with a 6-foot gap between the trail and the highway, would also be supported by the piers.

The existing pedestrian bridge would be removed to make way for the new span, which would go to the north of the existing bridge. The old bridge would remain to carry a potential future light-rail line.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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