Aging Maroon Creek Bridge faces an uncertain future
October 10, 2002
The Maroon Creek Bridge, a 114-year-old railroad trestle that cars rumble over every day on the way in and out of Aspen, is slated to be replaced as part of the Entrance to Aspen project.
But the bridge could remain untouched until that project goes forward, minus the yearly inspections from the state. The bridged is deemed “structurally sound” but “functionally obsolete.”
“The bridge is serving a purpose it wasn’t created for, or in the case of bridges built for automobile traffic, the capacity has been exceeded,” said Brian Pettet, Pitkin County Public Works director. “The Maroon Creek Bridge is unique because it wasn’t created for automobile traffic.”
On Nov. 5, local voters will choose whether they’d prefer the current alignment of Highway 82 through the S-curves or a new route from the roundabout across the Marolt/Thomas open space connecting with Main Street. The latter is part of the Entrance to Aspen project, and, as Assistant City Manager Randy Ready notes, it is what has caused the most controversy.
As part of the entrance project, the bridge would be returned to railroad use, and would be ready should voters ever approve a rail system in the valley. The cost of returning the bridge from its current state to its historic one will cost about $1 million, Ready said.
On the railroad trestle’s northern side (looking right when driving downvalley), a new bridge over Maroon Creek would be built to accommodate vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists. The price tag would be around $24 million.
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“If at some point Aspenites say they are happy with the existing situation and we tell [the Colorado Department of Transportation] to leave us alone, at some point we’d be taking that bridge out of service, and a new bridge would have to be constructed,” Ready said. “That’s probably 10 or 20 years away, but there’s no way of knowing.”
As it is, every year Pettet said the bridge receives a new layer of pavement, and the joints beneath the bridge are inspected to make sure connections are adequately holding the structure together. Inspections are also done for the cement footings at the base of the Maroon Creek Valley.
“Each year the bridge proves to be structurally sound. If there was any indication otherwise, we’d either fix or close the bridge,” Pettet said. “By checking it every year they can see a trend and catch things before it gets too bad.”
But former CDOT engineer Ralph Trapani, who helped design the Entrance to Aspen project and was the lead state engineer in this part of the state until his retirement in May, said the bridge should have been replaced 20 years ago.
“It’s in pretty tough shape ? the real problem with the bridge is the base, the way the old piles are constructed,” he said, referring to an emergency in 1993 when one of the large cement blocks had to be replaced in a hurry. “We shouldn’t have an infrastructure like that at the entrance of a community like Aspen.”
Moreover, Trapani said if Aspen passes up its chance to approve the entrance project, replacing the bridge is highly unlikely.
“The Entrance to Aspen is a package, and I believe CDOT still perceives it as a package,” he said. “There’s a lot more at stake here than just an eighth of a mile of new transportation corridor crossing an open space.”
CDOT Engineer Joe Elsen, who is replacing Trapani temporarily in the role of lead engineer for the project, could not be reached for comment.
A model of the Entrance to Aspen project on the first floor of City Hall demonstrates the new bridge with the original tracks alongside, along with Highway 82 reconfigured to run smoothly on and off the new structure.
“The most expeditious way to replace the bridge is through the Entrance to Aspen project. We don’t want CDOT to have to reconsider the entire project,” Ready said. “We’ll have to look at different funding sources.”
Trapani said that by looking for different funding methods, the entire design process could end up being reopened, and eventually the option of a four-lane highway straight into Aspen could be offered up, an alternative that he doesn’t advocate.
Pettet said sooner or later, the Maroon Creek Bridge should be included with any plans to complete work on Highway 82.
“From an engineering perspective it doesn’t make sense to complete a multi-million dollar project and end it at the Maroon Creek Bridge,” he said.
[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]