Steamboat Springs Initial design meetings for a replacement for the U.S. Highway 40 bridge over the Elk River could take place as soon as April, but construction on the new $11.7 million span won’t begin until at least 2014.
The 53-year-old bridge is structurally sound, Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said. But it has been deemed functionally obsolete because it has no shoulder on one lane and a shoulder of only 2 to 3 feet on the other lane.
“It’s not a done deal,” Shanks said about the replacement project. “The money is not in place. But it has over-shot its design life.”
Bridges with narrow to no shoulders make it harder for drivers to avoid collisions, she said.
The bridge is among 63 in 25 counties that made the list of Colorado’s worst bridges and were targeted in 2009 for replacement. The state resolved to issue a series of bond issues throughout three years to pay to replace the bridges under the Colorado Bridge Enterprise Outline Plan.
CDOT Public Relations Director Stacey Stegman said 47 bridges have been designated for construction, and some will be built in summer. The future of the Elk River bridge will depend on market conditions, including interests rates, but the intent is to issue new bonds in each of the next two years.
The Federal Highway Administration describes several ways in which narrow bridges contribute to vehicular accidents. The entrance to the bridges lacking sufficient shoulders represents an obstruction as drivers transition from the wider roadway. Some drivers become overly cautious on narrow bridges and slow down to the point that others collide with the first vehicle. Still other drivers tend to cross the centerline because the proximity of the bridge railing is intimidating.
The piers of the bridge over the Elk River have previously been shored up with stone rip rap, or solid material used to prevent ice and water erosion, ensuring they would withstand anything shy of a 500-year flood, Shanks said.
Stegman said her department is obligated to take the lowest qualifying bid on the statewide bridge projects and will consider some of the projects together to stimulate the best bids. The estimated $11.7 million project in Routt County compares to an average of $4 million to $5 million for the 63 bridges across the state.