New bridge for falls near Ouray

Traffic winds along U.S. Highway 550 over a temporary bridge built in preparation for a project that will resume Monday, the replacement of a 44-year-old bridge over Bear Creek Falls, a popular viewing area along the Million Dollar Highway just south of Ouray.



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Traffic winds along U.S. Highway 550 over a temporary bridge built in preparation for a project that will resume Monday, the replacement of a 44-year-old bridge over Bear Creek Falls, a popular viewing area along the Million Dollar Highway just south of Ouray.

OURAY — Construction is scheduled to resume Monday on a structure to replace the narrow Bear Creek Bridge on U.S. Highway 550, two miles south of the town of Ouray.

Traffic will be limited to a single lane, and alternating traffic flows will be managed by traffic signals. The single lane will be enforced 24 hours a day, with one-hour delays expected if work is under way from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The new bridge will be wider and will improve traffic safety and allow pedestrians a greater view of Bear Creek Falls, according to Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Nancy Shanks.

“It’s a very tight corner for trucks and large vehicles,” Shanks said.

American Civil Constructors Inc. of Lakewood is the contractor for the project, which is funded by Colorado Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery (FASTER). The $5.8 million project is scheduled for completion in October.

American Civil Constructors began the project last year, removing a portion of the north rock face and creating a temporary bridge in preparation for the replacement.

The 44-year-old Bear Creek Bridge was identified in a 1999 CDOT study as one of two bridges in Ouray County with a poor rating and a remaining service life of one to six years.

“This work that we’re doing has been a priority for us for many years,” Shanks said.

“Two cars can barely pass.  ... The way the road is set up, a tractor-trailer of any kind has to go down the center of the road. That yellow line has to be right in the middle of your hood. Most of the time you have to stop and wait for the other cars to pass,” said Jeremiah Wilson, a commercial driver for Wilson Lake Trucking in Montrose.

The bridge spans an approximately 300-foot drop over the falls.

The new design will greatly improve traffic flow and eliminate the need for vehicles to stop in the roadway, according to CDOT. A new parking area near the north end of the bridge and a new walkway will allow visitors a better view of the falls.

Jody Randall, a member of American Civil Constructors’ business development department, said the company will have eight people working at the site, supported by nearly 20 subcontractors from Ouray and Durango doing work such as traffic control and demolition.

Colorado has 125 structurally deficient bridges rated in poor condition, and many more bridges are functionally obsolete, according to a 2010 CDOT report.

Approved by the Legislature in 2009 in response to crumbling infrastructure, FASTER is projected to generate approximately $252 million annually for transportation improvements from sources including increased vehicle registration and car rental fees.

CDOT maintains 3,429 major bridges on the state’s highway system. According to the same 2010 report, bridge expenditures are expected to be around $71.8 million in 2011.

The cost to raise all of Colorado’s bridges to a rating of good or fair is approximately $4.1 billion, according to the report.

According to a separate CDOT report, many of Colorado’s bridges remain in a state of disrepair because revenue for maintenance is not keeping pace with the rising costs of maintenance, repair and construction. Colorado’s 22-cent-per-gallon fuel tax, which pays for a majority of roadway maintenance projects, has not been increased since 1992, the report said.

Shanks said motorists can stay connected with CDOT for construction updates and road closures through CDOT’s website, http://www.coloradodot.info.

In addition, drivers can sign up for email and cell-phone alerts through the website.



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