Time to replace a railroad-era relic | AspenTimes.com

Time to replace a railroad-era relic

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The Maroon Creek bridge on Highway 82 must be replaced, and soon. Hopefully we won’t have to keep banging this drum indefinitely.

After an October scare, in which the 116-year-old span required emergency repairs to its cracked abutments, this week revealed another damaged pier in the bridge’s aging support system. The structure was closed for a period in October to all traffic but cars and light trucks, and the Colorado Department of Transportation has warned that ongoing repairs this month may necessitate reducing traffic to a single lane on some days.

The inconvenience makes for headaches, of course, but the bottom line here is safety. We’re not bridge engineers here at the Times, but the evidence is starting to look downright grim: two structural emergencies in three months, on a century-old bridge that carries some 22,000 travelers each day, including heavy truck traffic. This month one of the old rock foundations is being thoroughly encased or surrounded by reinforced concrete. It’s hard to resist dubbing the concrete box a “coffin.”

CDOT regional director Ed Fink has acknowledged the converted railroad bridge as a “top priority” for the agency, while noting in the same breath that the state’s fiscal crisis has tied his hands. Apparently, the Maroon Creek bridge’s priority just isn’t “top” enough.

The Elected Officials Transportation Committee (EOTC), which comprises representatives from Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village, has gone so far as to discuss the notion of tolls on the bridge ” an idea that, while clearly capable of raising the $25 million necessary, would likely trigger commuter riots.

So, what to do? Fink has said he’ll place the bridge on a “discretionary list” for potential funding from the federal government. While not a cure-all, the federal funds could jump-start a cooperative funding effort involving all levels of government.

Fink told the EOTC in December that “although it might require more maintenance than other bridges, it is certainly safe.”

We hope he’s right. However, at some point, Band-Aid “maintenance” ” if that’s really the word for major structural reinforcement ” becomes just plain wasteful. It’s time for officials at all levels to work together to replace the obsolete relic over Maroon Creek.

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