Section of Grand Avenue bridge collapses during Glenwood Springs demolition work |

Section of Grand Avenue bridge collapses during Glenwood Springs demolition work

Ryan Summerlin
Girders that fell prematurely Tuesday evening from the old Grand Avenue bridge rest across Union Pacific railroad tracks in downtown Glenwood Springs.
Ryan Summerlin / Post Independent |

A large section of the old Grand Avenue bridge in downtown Glenwood Springs, under demolition to make way for a new bridge, unexpectedly collapsed Tuesday night. No one was hurt.

Tuesday was the second day of bridge demolition work. Steel girders underpinning the 1953 structure had been stripped of the concrete bed earlier. Demolition crews began stripping the bridge down piece by piece just after midnight Sunday, and the process was supposed to take two weeks.

Crews at the south end of the bridge were pulling a girder out of the bridge after 8 p.m. Tuesday when it got hung up on an anchor on a middle pier, between Seventh Street and the edge of the Colorado River, said Wilson. The pier buckled and then collapsed toward Eighth Street. The fallen section of bridge came to rest across Seventh Street and the railroad tracks.

Witnesses said workers and police officers scrambled and dust flew, but no one was hurt, Glenwood Police Chief Terry Wilson said. The Colorado Department of Transportation confirmed the incident was not planned. It said the girders did not fall into the Colorado River or end up off the project site.”The remainder of the old Grand Avenue Bridge structure over I-70 and the Colorado River has been assessed and is secure,” CDOT said in a news release.

“I was watching as the girder was being separated from the pier and was being pulled back, when all of a sudden the pier up the line started twisting, and it all collapsed to the ground,” said Jim Wentzel, who was recording with his phone when the section fell. “I’ve been here since 3 this afternoon. I’m hooked on this whole thing, I just find it fascinating.”

Police were attempting to keep onlookers at a distance soon afterward, and people were gathering on the side streets and pedestrian bridge to get a look at the hulk of steel collapsed on the ground.

“On the bright side … a 300-ton crane was just delivered Tuesday, which will probably come in handy now,” said Wilson.

Crews believe they had the fallen section in a stable position, and went to work quickly to get it chopped up and removed, said Wilson.

Union Pacific also was notified that its tracks were out of commission, said the chief. The railroad company could not be reached immediately Tuesday evening, and it was unknown how train schedules, including Amtrak’s California Zephyr, which makes midday stops in Glenwood from each direction, might be affected.

Asked if the collapsed pier was evidence reinforcing the need for the bridge replacement, Wilson said, “It makes one wonder. That was my first thought. If that pier came down that easily, perhaps it was a sign.”

The bridge is being torn down to make way for a new, wider and longer structure that already is partially built. The $126 million effort is largest infrastructure project on Colorado’s Western Slope in a generation.

The old bridge was considered structurally sound but functionally deficient.

Tracy Trulove, Colorado Department of Transportation Region 3 communications manager, said that no debris or material appeared to have gone into the Colorado River.

This was the first significant accident of the construction project, which began in early 2016.

After just a day of demolition work, crews had already removed the bridge deck on the south end of the bridge, leaving only the steel girders showing. This work had reached the bridge’s third pier between the UP railroad tracks and the Colorado River.

“I wouldn’t say it’s ahead of schedule, but we certainly haven’t run into any significant problems,” Tom Newland, bridge project spokesman for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said earlier in the day.

To get this demolition finished on schedule crews have been working round the clock, allowing heavy truckloads of debris to be hauled out during low traffic times.

Girders for the new bridge are scheduled to arrive in late August and be erected in September.

It was unclear Tuesday how the accident might affect the schedule.

The new bridge is scheduled to be open in 93 days, after what in its early days is proving to be a painful detour through Glenwood Springs.

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