Middle Bridge on track for July 4 limited openings

Lake Fork Bridge inspections coming next…

[  By Katherine Nettles  ]

Repairs on the US 50 Blue Mesa Middle Bridge are coming along on schedule and plans to reopen it to one lane of traffic for limited vehicle types on July 4 are on track. That was the first message shared in the latest meeting this week from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), co-hosted with Gunnison County and Kiewit Construction representatives to update the public on the bridge closure, which has been in effect since April when CDOT closed it for safety concerns. CDOT also shared an estimated date of late October for fully reopening the bridge, and the plans to conduct a closer inspection of the Lake Fork Bridge at Blue Mesa this summer as well, which will also impact traffic flows this summer.

Herman Stockinger, CDOT’s deputy executive director, expressed his continued appreciation for everyone’s patience with the unexpected closure and related traffic detours and delays. “We continue to recognize what a hardship this has been for everybody that’s had to go through this. It’s impacting your lives, and as we move into the summer months it’s impacting your livelihoods…we want to do right by all you all and get this open as quickly as we can,” he said.

Jason Smith, a CDOT program engineer, said progress has come along well on the bridge repair and shared a target date for fully reopening the bridge in late October. 

Meanwhile, the bridge should be ready for opening on July 4, limited to passenger cars and emergency vehicles with two crossings daily. There will be one release in the morning and one in the evening to help commuter traffic, and as progress continues, he said they would open access a bit more. The main issue is getting finished with the first stage of critical repairs and then working to complete the other phases that are not as critical but must be done to ensure longevity. 

“We’re on schedule right now as planned. The site is prepped, the steel is in place. In the next few weeks some progress on that critical repair will get finalized,” Smith said. 

The permanent repairs will take until the end of October, he predicted. 

CDOT will also concurrently begin inspecting the Lake Fork bridge structure, which is made of the same type of steel known to have structural issues and which was built around the same time as the Middle Bridge. “We’re going to start doing some further inspections, setting scaffolding, stripping the paint,” said Smith, in the next few weeks. 

He said they will approach it a bit differently, having learned from the Middle Bridge process, and have all materials and crews in place beforehand. “So, if we do find something our closure of that structure will be minimal as opposed to what you’ve seen with the Middle Bridge. That’s why we’ve waited a little bit to tackle the other bridge, to give us a chance to get organized and prepared.”

Smith estimated that if the Lake Fork Bridge is closed for repairs, it would only be a few days, and they are now preparing County Road 25 as an additional bypass route by improving the roadway and adding gravel. 

CDOT has so far received $25 million in federal assistance for the repair and has asked for an additional $10 million. 

Gunnison County public works director Martin Schmidt applauded the cooperation between CDOT and other agencies with the county to be safe and efficient. “I think we’ve had really good impromptu teamwork throughout this entire situation,” he said. 

Schmidt said washboarding and other heavy traffic impacts are adding up on County Road 26 and repairs must occur continually through the current schedule of timed releases and regular Wednesday closures. He said night work has not been happening, but the road remains closed at night to protect public safety and protected species and wildlife in the area.

“The goal again is the safe passage of the public,” he said, and avoiding further closures.  

When the Middle Bridge reopens to a single lane there will be no commercial vehicles allowed, and with Kebler Pass weight and size limits CR 26 will remain the route for larger commercial vehicles.  

During the public Q&A, some people asked if there might be traffic holdups on both bridges at the same time. Smith responded that yes, there would be work going concurrently. “But we’ll do everything in our power to let the traffic flow.” 

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