Bridge replacement unlikely, CDOT says |

Bridge replacement unlikely, CDOT says

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation expressed doubt yesterday that this week’s partial closure of the Maroon Creek Bridge would speed up its replacement.

Tom Norton said the bridge, which could be repaired as early as the end of this week, will likely undergo a structural review in the wake of this week’s incident. Once completed, CDOT officials will decide whether it needs to be moved up the list for replacement funding.

“It’s one that’s been on our list for a number of years for needing major repairs or replacement,” Norton said.

But he also said there are several other bridges around the state that need to be replaced as soon as possible, including the busy I-25 viaduct over Broadway Avenue in Denver. He added that CDOT’s budget this year is about $250 million less than last year, so there is very little money available for bridge replacement.

“If we get it repaired and make it safe, the bridge might last for a number of years,” Norton said.

The Maroon Creek Bridge closed Monday to all but passenger vehicles and pickup trucks after CDOT inspectors discovered structural damage to one of the bridge’s primary supports. One of the sandstone blocks that hold up the downvalley end had crumbled to pieces, and another had shifted and cracked.

At first, only the largest trucks were barred from crossing the bridge, but as the day progressed, more and more vehicles were directed on to the detour route in and out of Aspen via Smith Way, McLain Flats Road and Cemetery Lane. By late afternoon only passenger cars and pickup trucks were allowed on the road. CDOT officials finally agreed to allow buses and vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less across the bridge.

“This was a focused decision by the department to keep the commuters on track,” said Joe Elsen, the CDOT program engineer who oversees construction and maintenance in Pitkin County. “The reason we’re allowing RFTA buses and school buses is they are a known [weight], trucks are not.”

Elsen said his engineers could reassess the weight restriction that is forcing nearly all trucks through a crowded neighborhood as soon as Friday.

Elsen also publicly apologized for the backups that occurred yesterday morning.

“We’re very sorry for the traffic congestion. It shouldn’t happen again,” he said.

Yesterday, traffic crews limited travel in the upvalley lanes of Highway 82 to just one lane for a three-mile stretch, from Aspen Village to the intersection with Smith Way, creating a 10-mile backup during the height of the morning commute.

The lane closure was an attempt to get large trucks to take the detour in and out of Aspen. Throughout the day, truck drivers ignored signs and blew past flaggers directing them away from the bridge.

“We chose to get it down to one lane to let flaggers cull trucks out,” Elsen said. “We didn’t expect them to have to talk to every trucker.”

He said the signs directing trucks off the highway have been improved, as have traffic-control tactics, so the lane closure shouldn’t be needed anymore.

Crews from Ames Construction, the primary contractor on the Snowmass Canyon project, will begin replacing the compromised support blocks with reinforced concrete at 9 a.m. today. The bridge will be closed to all large vehicles, including buses, until 3 p.m., Elsen said.

If the work goes as planned, the bridge will reopen to buses before school lets out and the afternoon rush hour begins.

The detour for trucks will remain in effect all day Thursday. Elsen said the detour will be reassessed Friday morning.

Norton said the state Transportation Commission, which oversees spending and operations at CDOT, will likely hear a report on the situation at its next regular meeting on Nov. 20.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is]

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