Red Cliff Bridge repairs under way |

Red Cliff Bridge repairs under way

Tamara Miller
NWS RCliff Bridge Constr BH 3-16 Vail Daily/Bret Hartman Construction workers from Rock and Company out of Brighton work on replacing the eroded concrete around the steal gurders Tuesday for the Red Cliff bridge restoration project.

The $3.6 million Red Cliff Arch Bridge project is underway and construction workers will spend the next few weeks setting the stage for the extensive and complicated work ahead this summer.

The Colorado Department of Transportation reduced traffic to one lane over the historic bridge last week. Beginning April 5, the bridge will be closed to traffic completely. Local traffic will be routed through Red Cliff, but the local detour cannot accommodate trucks.

Truckers and all other traffic will be required to use Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 91, which heads south from Copper Mountain.

The alternate route could add another 20 minutes to a traveler’s drive time, said Matthew Cirulli, project manager for Lawrence Construction of Littleton, the main contractor for the repair work. But it could end up being better than the alternative.

“There’s no legal way we can enforce the local traffic,” Cirulli said. “However, (the in-town route) will be down to one lane through town with a temporary traffic light. These lane closures and one-ways will extend driving by 20, 30 minutes.

“Even if you were to live in Leadville and work in Eagle it would still be quicker to go through Copper Mountain,” Cirulli said.

The Colorado State Patrol will patrol the construction zone, as well as Red Cliff, to enforce the speed limit and detour restrictions.

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. The bridge was built in 1940 and nowadays serves as the primary route between Leadville and Eagle County. About 2,100 motorists drive over the bridge daily, said Pete Lombardi, project engineer for the department of transportation. About 7 percent of those motorists are truckers, he said.

Time, increased use and the elements have all taken a toll on the bridge. Construction plans call for a new, wider bridge deck and a new bridge rail, but the historic structure’s unique appearance will not be altered.

“The bridge would end up being weight-restricted and require extensive repair work to keep it safe for all loads if this project does not go forward,” said Keith Powers, resident engineer for the department of transportation. “It’s going to be a complex project that will require some significant traffic impacts during the work.”

Installing the foundation for the bridge work is particularly difficult because the bridge spans a canyon. The project also is located within an environmentally sensitive area, such as the Eagle River which flows under the bridge.

Crews are putting up scaffolding that will run on cable along the expanse of the bridge, Cirulli said. That task alone will take up most of the month of March.

“It’s a pretty complicated thing,” he said. “You have to run cables completely across the canyon walls.”

Workers are using rock climbing techniques to move down the canyon ledge and set up the cables for the scaffolding, Cirulli said.

Once the road is closed April 5, construction on the bridge begins. Crews will demolish and rebuild the abutments – the structure that supports the ends of the bridge – and install a new deck and bridge railings.

The bridge will receive a facelift, as well.

Weather has caused corrosion and deterioration of the steel structure, requiring new paint. Removal of the existing lead-based paint also will be complex, Power said.

“We’ll be taking every precaution during the paint removal to ensure that we are protecting our workers’ health and the environment,” he said.

Other than the widening of the bridge deck, the structure should look exactly the same as it did before, Cirulli said.

The bridge is expected to re-open to one-lane traffic again by July 3. The project’s completion date is set for early November 2004.

Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at: or by calling 949-0555 ext. 607.

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