Pearl Pass bridge’s fate undecided
August 20, 2009
ASPEN – The unanticipated cost of replacing a backcountry bridge on Pearl Pass Road had Pitkin County commissioners hitting the brakes on the project Tuesday.
Given the short construction season at that elevation and the rough road to reach it, replacing the structure presents a challenge, said County Engineer G.R. Fielding, seeking a $210,000 budget allocation to proceed with the project. The money would come from existing capital repair/replacement funds.
The bridge was partially washed away in late June, when local mountains experienced a second surge of spring runoff. The short, timber span is located about 2.8 miles beyond the end of Castle Creek Road, south of Aspen. The road leads to Pearl Pass and Montezuma Basin; the latter is the common starting point for climbers looking to ascend Castle Peak, a fourteener.
Four-wheelers must also cross the creek near the base of Pearl Pass Road. There is only a foot bridge at that crossing; motorists drive through the water.
“There’s the do-nothing option, at least for now,” said Commissioner Michael Owsley, suggesting the project be left until next season.
“My concern is, next year, it’s just gone,” said Fielding, who argued for its replacement since Pearl Pass sees a fair amount of use.
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“It’s a very popular backcountry retreat for many people in the community,” he said.
A sign has been erected shortly before the bridge warning travelers that the span is out, though part of it remained in place after the damage was done. Fielding said he has heard that people continue to drive over it at their own risk.
“Just because it’s there doesn’t mean it hasn’t failed,” he said.
The bridge, located near the headwaters of Castle Creek, near the turnoff into Montezuma Basin, crosses the creek in a section where it plunges through a series of waterfalls. Without the bridge, the creek crossing could be dicey at high water.
It’s a county road and keeping it safe is the county’s responsibility, said Brian Pettet, director of public works, but he, too, advocated a closer look at the project. It could be that it becomes a creek crossing without a bridge, just like the one at the base of the road, he said on Wednesday.
Commissioner Patti Clapper suggested the county use a piece of the deck from one of the left-over sections of the former Maroon Creek pedestrian bridge to replace the timber bridge. Others expressed doubt about the feasibility of that option. Clapper also mulled whether it might be less expensive now to fix the bridge than to wait until it washes out entirely.
Commissioners directed Fielding to proceed with design work and come back to them with a more definitive proposal. The existing bridge doesn’t resemble any previous or current county or U.S. Forest Service design standard, Fielding noted. There may be various options for its replacement, he said.
Fielding said he intends to visit the site Friday.
“I think we’re going to take a look, see what our options are and talk to the Forest Service – see if they can help us out,” Pettet said.