Eagle County completes $5.8 million bridge building | VailDaily.com

Eagle County completes $5.8 million bridge building

The new Burns Bridge replaces one built in 1945 when the Colorado River Road was being constructed. The bridge opened Monday.
Special to the Daily |

BURNS — You know things were built right when they take 71 years and 82 years to wear out.

A pair of bridges opened Monday in northeast Eagle County, replacing their predecessors that were built in 1934 and 1945.

Construction on the Catamount Bridge and the Burns Bridge began in September 2015. The Eagle County commissioners cut the ribbon on both Monday morning, approximately 25 miles northeast of Dotsero on the Colorado River Road.

The Burns Bridge cost $2.9 million and the Catamount Bridge also cost $2.9 million, with 80 percent of the money coming from the federal government.

A river runs through them

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Catamount down to Burns on the Colorado River is a run of just a few miles. Spencer’s Cabin is in Burns, where you come out of the canyon, one of the river access points acquired in 2014 through Eagle County’s open space fund.

Both bridges were paved last week, creating traffic delays of about 15 minutes, which is expected. What was unique was river rafters being delayed. While crews were removing the old Catamount Bridge, boaters were also held to wait upriver.

What’s in a name?

The good folks at the Eagle County Historical Society dug out a little history on the two bridges.

“Catamount” is a name for a wild cat, either a mountain lion or lynx.

The Catamount Bridge was originally built in 1934, according to the Eagle County Historical Society’s archives. It may have been redone a time or two since then, especially when the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad was building the Dotsero Cutoff.

That cutoff was a 38-mile section of track between Bond and Dotsero that slashed the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad’s track miles between Denver and Salt Lake City by 173 miles. Hence the name “Cutoff.”

That Catamount Bridge and the Cutoff was significant in railroad history because the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad ran a major transcontinental route. Probably the bridge had something to do with accommodating the construction of that railroad section. Dotsero was a boomtown during that time.

The Burns Bridge is called the Colorado River Bridge by the State Highway Department, which changed its own name to the Colorado Department of Transportation. It was built in 1945.

Located between Burns and McCoy, the Burns Bridge was part of the Colorado River Road building effort. According to the Historical Society’s archives, before that bridge was built, Burns was accessed either via Yampa, or another road from Eagle over the backside of Castle Peak.

The Colorado River Road was significant, serving ranchers at a time when cattle and sheep ranching were a major industry and economic driver in Eagle County.

The Colorado River Road opened in the late 1940s. These bridges and the road opened up country that had been somewhat isolated from the rest of Eagle County.

Burns was named for Jack Burns, a trapper who lived in the area.

Geologists call the folded geologic striations just prior to Catamount a “syncline.” It was formed 80 million years ago during the formation of the Rocky Mountains and demonstrates the tremendous geologic force that created the Rockies.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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