Routt County officials discuss renovating remote bridges

Commissioners discuss costly potential projects in northern part of county

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— The Chicken Creek and Slater Creek bridges aren’t the busiest in Routt County, but of the 66 large bridges in the county road system, they’re in the worst repair.

The Chicken Creek Bridge on Routt County Road 82, in far northwest Routt County, sees an average of 10 daily trips in summer. Slater Creek, a little further west on Routt County Road 1W, averages nine. The numbers dip to zero in winter, when the roads aren’t plowed.

Still, the Board of Routt County Commissioners is faced this spring with the possibility of spending something less than $1 million to replace the two bridges. Both bridges span Slater Creek and both are 45 years old. The force of the creek at high flows during that time has scoured earth and rock away from the bridge abutments and the corrugated steel in their wings is corroded.

“We’re here to ask if you are really going through with the replacement of these bridges before we begin the planning work,” Senior Road Engineer Heather McLaughlin told the commissioners Monday. “Chicken Creek Bridge is rated insufficient by (the Colorado Department of Transportation), which means it should be monitored closely.”

Both bridges are one-lane spans that lack side-rails. Far from any town in Routt County, their primary function is to provide access to U.S. Forest Service grazing leases, for ranchers moving cattle to and from spring and fall pastures.

The county budgeted $1 million from Road and Bridge Department reserves for the twin projects in its 2011 budget, including $475,515 for Chicken Creek and $534,145 for the longer Slater Creek Bridge. However, McLaughlin said those numbers are misleading because her department is required by CDOT to budget new bridges as two-lane projects, and the county has no intention of building to that standard. Instead, they would remain one-lane bridges.

“I would be incredibly shocked if it cost us $1 million,” McLaughlin said.

And she’s hopeful that pre-cast box culverts could replace the old steel bridges. Another option might be removing the bridges and limiting travel to low-water crossings of the creek.

Road and Bridge Director Paul Draper pointed out that contractors’ costs to build would be inflated by the remoteness of the bridges and the expense of keeping crews in the field.

County Manager Tom Sullivan expressed skepticism about spending so much to meet the transportation needs of so few motorists.

“I’m reluctant to go forward,” Sullivan said. “It’s ridiculous to spend $400,000 on a bridge that gets 10 people a day.”

But commissioners Diane Mitsch Bush and Doug Monger asked Mclaughlin and Draper to request proposals from contractors. That step won’t be taken until at least July, when spring runoff subsides.

Monger said overall, Routt County’s system of larger bridges is in good repair.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboattoday.com

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