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A bridge closure on the western slope is impacting businesses and travel

 bridge at blue mesa reservoir
 Bridge at Blue Mesa Reservoir
Posted at 5:18 PM, May 23, 2024

GUNNISON, Colo. — Drivers looking to travel over the bridge at Blue Mesa Reservoir will have to seek an alternative route. The bridge, which spans the Gunnison River, is closed where Highway 50 meets Highway 92 to milepost 138.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) gave News5 an update on the progress they are making on the broken bridge. CDOT said crews are finished with the first phases of inspections. Engineers are creating a design plan so crews can fix the bridge.

The bridge is located just west of Gunnison, about three and a half hours southwest of Colorado Springs.

It closed last month after inspectors found a 4-inch long crack in the superstructure of the bridge that supports the deck where drivers travel. The Communication Director for CDOT, Matt Inzeo said. This is an issue that has come up with similar bridges throughout the country.

“We got to replace super strength with super strength,” Inzeo said. “So we are conducting a special inspection of the bridge because of the type of steel that has been used with it,” Inzeo said.

He said the bridge is made from T-1 steel.

“It was used mostly in the 60s and 70s. It's a really high strength steel, it's like three times the strength of what you know, is generally available,” Inzeo said.

Inzeo said because of this, it takes a specific fix.

“Particularly when we don't have solid ground underneath us on this bridge, we've got the Blue Mesa Reservoir, which is about 300 feet deep right in that location. It's just a different physical challenge to take on,” Inzeo said.

The closure has meant hours-long detours for drivers to get across the reservoir. The detour options CDOT recommends for drivers are either taking I-70 around through Grand Junction which is a 6-hour drive, or taking 160 through Durango, which is a seven-hour drive. There is a bypass option on County Road 26. It is a 15 mile drive on a dirt road.

WATCH: More travel options for commuters starting Friday after US 50 bridge closure

“It's a pain, but what else are you gonna do, right,” Sergio Sigala from Colorado Springs said.

On Tuesday, Sigala from Colorado Springs was trying to get to Montrose to pick up parts.

“Well, the bypass being open, it's a lot closer than going all the way around to I-70. I guess,” Sigala said.

Sigala said the bypass saved him from having to take the seven hour detour. Inzeo said County Road 26 is a temporary fix.

“Right now, the roads take about four to five times more traffic than it usually sees. It's a rural dirt road. And so we have to do everything we can to make sure that it isn't damaged beyond the ability to use it,” Inzeo said.

Drivers have limited access to County Road 26 to get between the towns.

“At this point. It's been seven times you know, from early morning till pretty late in the evening. It gives folks a lot of opportunity to keep moving east and west as they need to or as they want to,” Inzeo said.

This closure is impacting a campground in the area.

“Yeah, we probably had 50% of the people that were gonna be here opening day just cancel,” Nathan Flournoy, a ranger at Trails Blue Mesa Recreational Ranch said.

Visitors from across the country park their RVs, pitch a tent or stay in cabins at Thousand Trails Ranch.

Flournoy is preparing for more visitors now that the bypass is open.

“Oh we're picking up now, so we're probably at 50% and I mean we could be 65-70% coming Memorial Day weekend but we have a lot of room still,” Flournoy said.

CDOT hopes to open one lane of the bridge to traffic by the Fourth of July and fully reopen the bridge by late this fall.

WATCH: Crews hope to reopen one lane of U.S. 50 Bridge by the Fourth of July

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