Flood fallout sticking agencies with high road, trail repair bills

Trent Prall, engineering manager for the city of Grand Junction, visits a section of Riverfront Trail near High Country Court that was washed away by high runoff in the Colorado River earlier this year. City public works and parks personnel toured the trail Tuesday afternoon to survey the damage and begin planning repair efforts.

Now that the Colorado River that raged at record runoff levels earlier this summer is finally beginning to calm, cash-strapped local and state agencies are swallowing hard and preparing to fork over millions of dollars to fix flood-damaged areas or considering alternatives to costly repairs.

The Colorado Department of Transportation will embark next month on a roughly $2.5 million emergency project to reinforce a section of the Colorado River bank west of Fruita. The city of Grand Junction, meanwhile, is contemplating its options in light of the high water washing away two separate areas of the Blue Heron section of the Colorado Riverfront Trail.

The situation facing the state and city offers a snapshot of the havoc wreaked on western Colorado roads and trails at least in part by rivers that swelled with snowmelt late this spring and continued to run high and fast long after they traditionally recede.

CDOT will bring in a contractor to install roughly 2,000 feet of riprap — large boulders used to armor shorelines and absorb the force of the river — alongside eastbound Interstate 70 between mile markers 16 and 19. The river washed away a portion of the bank in that area and, without repair, has the potential to undermine and collapse the roadway, CDOT resident engineer Jason Smith said.

“Because (the river) is starting to get so close to the road our crews have decided to fix it before the runoff next spring,” CDOT spokeswoman Ashley Mohr said.

CDOT normally takes six to nine months to prepare for construction. But given the extent of the damage, officials fast-tracked the project and completed the preparation work in about a month, Smith said.

He expects crews to begin repairs in September and finish by the end of November.

Grand Junction city officials aren’t in as much of a hurry to address their problem.

A half-mile stretch of the Riverfront Trail between High Country Court and the Glacier Ice Arena building has been closed since June because flooding caused two concrete trail sections totaling roughly 225 feet to collapse. One section, about 150 feet long, was moved about 40 feet away from the river last winter. The city figured it relocated the path to an area the water would never touch, then watched as the Riverfront Commission-funded $17,000 project washed away this summer.

“The city is very, very concerned about investing more tax dollars before figuring out what the river is doing,” city Engineering Manager Trent Prall said Tuesday while leading a tour of the washed-out trail sections.

What the river appears to be doing, city public works officials say, is changing course and pushing north.

Between 2002 and 2010, about 30 feet of riverbank was lost in the city. This year, the water chewed up 65 feet of riverbank, Prall said.

The city’s Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments are expected to present the City Council with a few options: Reconstruct the trail at its current location; move it further away from the river; or detour hikers and bikers to Riverside Parkway for that half-mile trail section.

Prall said the least likely option seems to be to rebuild the trail in its current alignment. Relocating it would require the city to obtain additional right-of-way or obtain an access easement from adjacent property owners. Preliminary estimates to repair the trail top $100,000, according to Prall.

He said he hopes to settle on a plan in six to eight weeks. Trail reconstruction, if it happens at all, won’t take place until next spring or summer.


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