It is what it is….so show some grace

Ahhhh, the never surprising and always constant spring question is arising a bit earlier than usual this year — Is Kebler open yet? No. But it will probably be open as early as ever this year. And that is only because a calamitous structural defect discovered in a bridge crossing Blue Mesa Reservoir by the Dillon Pinnacles closed that bridge on April 18 making any quick trip between Gunnison County and Montrose pretty much impossible. It is what it is. Despite criticism from the conspiracy theorists trolling social media and people wondering why Joe Biden didn’t obviously see this coming and get on it a couple years ago, the response from state and local officials has been pretty darn good in a pretty bad situation.

A crack found last week in a steel girder was serious enough for state and federal engineers to clear the Middle Bridge and prohibit further traffic on it. Similarly fabricated steel with signs of similar structural defects in other bridges around the country have resulted in bridges being closed for several months. It could be a long summer for people depending on that bridge for things like commerce, medical appointments and summer tourism in the area. It is an inconvenience to some and a major impact to others. 

Fortunately, that fact is not being disregarded by government officials as both Gunnison County and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) are taking the situation seriously and making every move to rectify the problem and find ways to mitigate the impacts of the closure that took an easy one-hour drive between Gunnison and Montrose and turned it into an all-day affair through either Vail or Pagosa Springs. 

Once the closure decision was made, county and state officials immediately began coordination to get the word out. Given the monstrous main detour choices, they then began looking at shorter alternatives and settled on the Lake City Cutoff as a top priority. Workers, machines, materials were dispatched immediately to get that seasonal dirt road into good enough shape to handle real commuter traffic and not slow sightseeing summer jeepers the road normally handles. It opened Monday. From there, the resources were dispatched to both sides of Kebler Pass Road where this week work began on removing snow so the road can dry out enough to handle another major pop in traffic. Again, communication has been a priority along with figuring out how and when to get that bridge open and implementing temporary alternatives. While the conceptual planning has started to deal with the situation if it continues into the busiest summer tourist time, there’s not much more that could have been done in this first week.

Look, it’s not another 2020 mystery pandemic scenario but the closure impacts a lot of people. It feels like a general pain in the butt. 

Closing Highway 50 at the Dillon Pinnacles cuts off our main westward travel artery since thousands of vehicles used Highway 50 every day to travel that section of the Western Slope. I was one of the last people to get over the bridge on Thursday as I traveled to Montrose for a doctor check-up followed by a ride at Buzzard Gulch and a stop for a burrito at Don Gilberto’s. Sounds like I squeaked through with about an hour to spare so I’m glad I didn’t stop to take in a movie. I know I am not the only one that heads that way for services and I keep hearing how many supplies we depend on flow east from there.

The road closure immediately demonstrated a vulnerability for us out here in the boondocks. While we’ve always prided ourselves as being able to live at the end of the road in a fairly remote, high mountain valley, that doesn’t mean we didn’t appreciate the comforts of modern civilization. If nothing else, we sometimes need it to just escape the chilly boonies for a dip in the even more isolated desert.

What looked like a small crack in a big bridge introduced a bit of chaos to the valley. It also immediately brought out the good in people as neighbors stepped up to get students back to their families with their boats navigating a tough Blue Mesa in spring conditions. Others volunteered to help in any way possible. Those returning from trips to Fruita or Moab or points further west took a breath and drove the scenic way that included Vail Pass or Pagosa Springs. Some local retailers depend on regular deliveries that come from Junction and truckers are figuring out ways to make that supply chain continue. The bottom line is that local supply chains will be impacted and my guess is that everything coming in will get more expensive. Sigh.

So, in what is certainly an unperfect situation (except perhaps to those who want to return the valley to 1957), credit to county and state officials for understanding the seriousness of the situation and not sitting on their hands and wondering what to do. The Lake City Cutoff was open pretty quickly under the circumstances. Officials are looking at how to run that opening three times a day with an early afternoon allowance to provide a bit more convenience on top of the early morning and evening runs. While Memorial Day is usually when Kebler is opened, time and money is being focused to make that happen much earlier. Understand though it’s not out of the question for that road to get another several feet of snow in the next few weeks. 

That Kebler alternative will be a major benefit to people in the North Valley and if the bridge is closed for a long while – which is unfortunately possible – Kebler will no doubt be busier than ever — so maybe Crested Butte donates those extra flower boxes to start at Horse Ranch Park and lead the masses slowly onto Whiterock Avenue.

Few if any are happy this bridge situation happened. But it is what it is and the people who have the means to deal with an unfortunate situation are doing what they can to make it better. As was said more than once during the pandemic, let’s be understanding and show our neighbors who are doing the best they can for all of us, some grace. It is what it is.

—Mark Reaman

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