Basalt to sue CDOT to change bridge?
The Basalt Town Council will consider suing the Colorado Department of Transportation next year to force changes to a bridge that the town claims has increased the flooding potential of the Roaring Fork River.While working on the 2005 budget last week, town officials disclosed they plan to keep a reserve fund in case a lawsuit against CDOT is necessary. The council discussed whittling the size of that fund from $40,000 to $20,000. No decision has been made yet.Mayor Leroy Duroux reluctantly acknowledged after the meeting that some council members believe the lawsuit may be necessary to force the transportation department to improve what’s known as the Upper Bypass Bridge. That’s the bridge near the east entrance to Basalt off of Highway 82.Duroux was cautious with his comments because he said he didn’t want to “undermine” the town’s relationship with the state agency. However, the mayor also acknowledged talks between town staff and CDOT personnel about the bridge have gone nowhere.”The town’s been in conversations with CDOT for two or three years. We haven’t made much progress,” he said.But CDOT spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said neither Joe Elsen, the department’s program director for Highway 82, nor regional transportation director Ed Fink were aware of Basalt’s demands. She also suggested Basalt might be better off devoting funds to making the changes itself rather than reserving them for potential litigation.Basalt officials have discussed the bridge’s effect on the river’s behavior for years and at least some former officials – such as Elsen’s predecessor, Ralph Trapani – were aware of the controversy.Extensive studies by consultants for the town indicate the construction of that bridge in the mid-1980s altered the flow of the river and its behavior during floods.In a meeting on Sept. 29, Rick McLaughlin of the engineering firm McLaughlin Rincon told the Town Council and planning commission that development along the Roaring Fork River in and around Basalt has reduced the area’s capability to absorb flood waters. The potential threat to property and lives from a flood is “substantial,” he reported.McLaughlin identified the Upper Bypass Bridge as one of the most damaging developments.”We all think of the Upper Bypass Bridge as evil – and it is,” said McLaughlin in September.He said it was constructed at an angle that creates an unnatural flow for the river. The water slams into the bank and dumps an extreme level of cobblestone around the area of the bridge. In addition, tree trunks and other debris get caught on the bridge’s piers and impede the flow of water.The firm’s report explained that the steeper stretches of the Roaring Fork upstream from Basalt send cobble into the stretch through town. The cobble “falls out” in Basalt and makes the river unstable and unpredictable.McLaughlin’s group has recommended steps to reduce the flood threat – at a price of between $15 million and $20 million. Those recommendations included interim steps that could be taken with the Upper Bypass Bridge.Ideally, McLaughlin said, replacing that bridge would be best, but that would double the price of the flood relief.Duroux said he didn’t believe town officials expect CDOT to replace the bridge given other financial demands from local projects, like replacement of the Maroon Creek bridge near Aspen. But they do want the state agency to take responsibility and make some improvements.Duroux said Basalt officials would prefer to avoid a lawsuit.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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