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Bridge repair stirs Red Cliff

Christine Ina Casillas
Red Cliff Bridge 9-5/ Mk edit
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The closing of the bridge in Red Cliff for repairs this spring has residents and business owners a little nervous.

The closure could mean two things for the quirky, old mining town: it could mean more business for local merchants or more traffic congestion for residents who live along what will be an alternate route through town.

“I have a bit of anxiety about this project,” Steve Pittel, owner of Nova Guides, told the Red Cliff Town Council at a recent meeting. “And I know there’s a lot of business owners here with the same concerns sitting behind me.

“I’ve lived here for 33 years, and I’m here for the input, but also here for you to help us, too,” Pittel said. “I don’t want to see a bunch of semis coming through Red Cliff.”

About 2,500 vehicles travel along U.S. Highway 24 per day and a majority of the drivers are commuters going from Leadville and Red Cliff to Vail and points downvalley.

“All the commuters from Leadville are going to come through Red Cliff,” said Sydney Summers, Red Cliff town councilwoman.

The bridge will be closed for about 175 days and, transportation officials say, traffic will be re-routed through Red Cliff.

“Traffic is going to come through town anyway,” said Keith Powers, resident engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation. “They’re going to see the “road closed’ signs and say, “Let’s see if we can come through, anyway.'”

Misleading motorists

But some business owners said they also worry the road-closure signs that will be posted in Minturn and Leadville might be a little misleading. The sign might make drivers think the town is closed – and also all its businesses.

“The businesses will be open,” said Martha Miller, project engineer the Department of Transportation. “The roads will be open for local traffic.”

The agency, as well as business owners and residents, said an option for travelers will be signs that direct people to businesses that are open in Red Cliff.

“I live at Camp Hale, and I run a business at Camp Hale,” Pittel said. “I run vehicles through (U.S. Highway 24) all the time.”

The possibility of Interstate 70 closing at Vail Pass, like it did in June when a 100-year-old culvert collapsed and created the notorious spring sinkhole, had other residents and business people concerned. While the freeway was closed, the only way for drivers to get from the Front Range to the Vail Valley was to head south from Copper Mountain to Leadville and back up Highway 24.

And for Leadville residents who travel down to Eagle County, the alternate route through Copper Mountain may take about the same time as going through Red Cliff, Pittel said.

“It’s the scenic route,” Miller said of the Copper Mountain route.

She also said the bridge repairs will be made during the off-season as a way to mitigate any unintended traffic congestion. But Eric Cregon, owner of Mango’s Mountain Grill, said the road is busy all year.

“This is the wilderness where everybody camps, as well,” Cregon said.

But Red Cliff resident Don Wilson said travelers coming upon the closed Red Cliff bridge will detour right into the heart of the town.

“For businesses, this is an opportunity we’ve never had before (because) they’re coming to our front door,” Wilson said.

Battered bridge

The $3.5 million project will begin April 1, 2004 and, Powers said, it will take crews about four months “to get the deck completely off, then back on again.”

“The bridge is in major need of repairs,” Powers said. “The project will be a seven-day operation. It’ll be a dawn-to-dusk operation to get it done. Our intent is to fast track the project.”

Transportation officials said they’re trying to cut the length of construction time by squeezing it into a 176-day slot.

The bridge, built for $150,000 in 1940, is 318-feet long. The repairs include repainting, replacing the concrete deck and widening the bridge from three feet to six feet to make more room for cyclists and motorists.

“The deck needs to come off and (the bridge) needs repainting,” Powers said. “Because it’s a historic bridge, we need to put it back exactly the way it was when it was built.”

Yet, department officials said they want the project to put as little burden as possible on the residents of Red Cliff and the commuters traveling the scenic byway.

People who live on Water Street in Red Cliff will be impacted the most by the project, transportation officials said.

“I live in the last house on Water Street,” said one Red Cliff resident. “I’m concerned about the speeding on Water Street. I want (drivers) to slow down. I don’t want a semi in my living room. And I want the children, the dogs, all to be safe.”

Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at ccasillas@vaildaily.com.


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