One lane over Red Cliff bridge opens Saturday | VailDaily.com
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One lane over Red Cliff bridge opens Saturday

Tamara Miller
NWS Red Cliff Traffic DC 5-13 Vail Daily/Don Clark Commuters wait in a traffic jam Thursday just before the Red Cliff Bridge. Motorists not following the advised detours has caused delays in construction as well as traffic problems in Red Cliff.
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This Independence Day weekend will have a whole new meaning for those who have endured a three-month detour while the Red Cliff Arch Bridge was closed for repairs.Beginning this Saturday, most drivers will have the freedom to cross the bridge – albeit, via only one lane, and in alternating directions – for the first time since major construction began April 5.Lysa Garton, a Leadville resident who commutes to Eagle County for work, is eager to resume her normal drive to work.”(The detour) is not necessarily a bad drive, it’s just so much longer,” she said. “The mileage is so much longer, it’s harder on your car and you get used to driving a certain way to work.”

Construction crews aren’t yet finished with the $3.6 million repair project on the historic bridge – rain has prevented workers from painting traffic lines on the road and there are still a few more repairs needed on the bridge structure itself, said Keith Powers, the Department of Transportation’s resident engineer. But Lawrence Construction, the main contractor for the repair work, was bound by contract to open the bridge Saturday and open Saturday it will.”It will absolutely be open 10 a.m. July 3, per contract,” Powers said. “It’s right on time. We are going to try and do our best, if the weather will permit, to get it open earlier.”Since the closure in April, the Department of Transportation has ordered commuters traveling on U.S. Highway 24 between Leadville and Eagle County to instead take Highway 91 through Copper Mountain to Interstate 70. Anyone wishing to go to the town of Red Cliff was allowed to do so, but had to endure delays while crews funneled traffic in and out of Red Cliff on one road. Complicating matters was that many commuters were refusing to take the detour and instead opted to stay on Highway 24 and travel through Red Cliff. Powers said announcements discouraging travel through Red Cliff worked only temporarily. “Traffic tapered off a little bit and then it came right back,” he said. “It’s been a nuisance and we’ve had some issues with speeders, noise – the typical things you run into.”

Steve Pittel, a Red Cliff resident and owner of Nova Guides rafting company, said the detour hasn’t been as bad as most people thought it would be. “It’s been a minor inconvenience and the people in the town of Red Cliff have been very patient with us,” he said.The Red Cliff bridge, which traverses the Eagle River over a deep gorge, is considered a vital part of the Top of the Rockies Scenic and Historic Byway. It was built in 1940 and nowadays serves as the primary route between Leadville and Eagle County. Before the bridge closed, about 2,500 vehicles drove over the bridge each day. Repairing the steel bridge has been a major undertaking and required that it be closed while crews fixed the deteriorating concrete bridge deck, update the bridge to meet modern highway safety standards and refinish the corroded steel structure, which was and will remain its signature color green.

While any vehicle under 14-feet wide may resume traveling on Highway 24 there will still be delays because only one lane will be open, Powers said.”The morning rush-hour commuter might get stuck on the highway for a while,” he said. Transportation officials also expect an increase in traffic, and delays, during the July 4 holiday this weekend.Motorists can expect traffic over the bridge to remain one lane, alternating directions, until mid-August, said Nancy Shanks, transportation department spokeswoman. Crews also will repair some of the roads in Red Cliff that have been damaged by construction vehicles.Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at tmiller@vaildaily.com or by calling 949-0555, ext. 607.


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