Getting to know … The Red Cliff bridge | VailDaily.com
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Getting to know … The Red Cliff bridge

Nathan Rodriguez
file photo by Bret HartmanThe Red Cliff bridge is about 200 feet above canyon floor.
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We’ve decided to expand our “getting to know” section to include landmarks and local attractions. This week, we’ll take a look at the history behind the Red Cliff bridge, which spans 470 feet, just over 200 feet above the Eagle River on Highway 24.

As always, if you have a person or place you think we should cover, don’t keep it to yourself ” let us know!

In 1939, the Colorado Department of Highways spearheaded construction of the Red Cliff Bridge, sometimes referred to as the Eagle River Bridge, at a cost of about $428,000. King Burkhardt, engineer for the CDH, designed the bridge, and Charles Vail was the chief engineer.

C.A. Switzer Construction out of Denver was hired for structural work, and received a little over $218,000 for their troubles.

The Colorado Department of Highways planned to dig test pits below where the bridge’s pedestals would rest, but the steep canyon walls combined with the location of the highway and railroad bridge below made that impossible. Instead, Switzer’s crew carried on without test pits, relying on hand-drilling and small dynamite charges to excavate the area.

The “ribs” of the bridge each came in six sections, weighing around 20 tons each. A truck hauled the ribs from a quarter of a mile away to an area directly beneath the arch.

For the rest of the bridge, the Colorado Department of Highways hired Frank M. Kenney from Denver to construct the steel arch at a cost of $153,000.

Because it is suspended over the Eagle River, the arch was built using cantilevering ” or using the canyon as support for the sides. Construction crews used a single suspension cable for the work, and cables which extended from the canyon walls supported the arch. Incidentally, the cables were salvaged from construction of the Hoover Dam.

After 64 years of wear and tear, it was time to spruce up the Red Cliff Bridge.

This time, the price tag was a little higher, and the Federal Highway Administration chipped in about half of the $3.6 million required to rehabilitate the bridge.

The bridge was still deemed structurally safe, but the concrete, reinforcing steel, and paint were all decaying, and CDOT would have been forced to place weight restrictions on the bridge, which has a little over 2,000 vehicles cross it each day.

Lawrence Construction, Inc., out of Littleton was tabbed for the job, and completed their work in just 176 days, between April and November 2004.

The height of the bridge complicated conventional reconstruction efforts, and the crews had working platforms acting as scaffolding. When removing chunks of the concrete deck, the crews used 3-foot diamond blade concrete saws to hack away at portions from each end of the bridge, and each removed section had to weigh less than 5,000 pounds.

The (re)construction crew had two goals in mind: First, bring the bridge up to code; second, maintain the original appearance. To maintain the look and feel of the bridge, CDOT teamed up with the Colorado Historical Society.

To bring it up to code, the construction crew had to tweak the guard rails, but kept the original rail intact, which is still visible from the outside of the bridge. They welded and bolted steel brackets to increase the safety of girder supports, and spent a day heating up the beams before pounding out dents.

Finally, to prevent additional corrosion of the bridge, the crews removed the lead-based paint, and repainted the bridge with a three-part paint system to restore the familiar light-green color.

For their efforts, the rehabilitation won the 2005 National Steel Bridge Alliance Prize Bridge Award for a reconstructed bridge.

>> Want to see someone or a landmark profiled in our Getting to Know feature? E-mail editor@vailtrail.com, or call (970) 748-0049.


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