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Southern Colorado's 25 bad bridges

Inspectors rated these bridges as poor for 10 years - why aren't they fixed?
Posted at 6:28 PM, Aug 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-17 20:28:45-04

Colorado is in a race against aging infrastructure. Despite the fee drivers pay each year toward bridge repairs in registering their vehicles, there are more than two dozen bridges in our region considered in poor condition.

When someone drives underneath the westbound span of the bridge at Circle Drive and I-25 over Fountain Creek, they'll see it's not aging gracefully.

The Federal Highway Administration considers the deck, which carries 16,000 cars on average each day, and its substructure, which supports those cars in poor condition. Crews repaired the eastbound span, but its sister bridge is one of 14,000 bridges nationwide rated in poor health.

Of those 14,000 bridges, 25 are in Southern Colorado, including Union Bridge in downtown Pueblo. It was built back in 1925 and on average sees more than 8,000 cars cross over it every single day.

Of the bridges rated poorly for more than a decade, there are 14 in El Paso County. Fremont and Teller counties each have two and in Pueblo County, there are seven bridges in poor health. An interactive map built off Federal Highway Transportation data allows Americans to see which bridges are rated poorly near them.

In Pueblo, city leaders are aware of the deteriorating state of Union Bridge.

"For the last two years, this project has been our number one federal funding request for bridge repairs," said Andrew E. Hayes, director of Pueblo City Public Works.

Using state and city funding, he said crews made some repairs to Union Bridge last year, but it would need around $40 million to replace this bridge. That's a hard sell to a grantor when another bridge, in good condition, is just a block away. It leaves the city with few options other than to reconsider how the bridge is used.

"We can further weight restrict it to be pedestrian only. All options are on the table I would say," Hayes noted.

There are bridge repairs taking place in the state. Colorado's Department of Transportation, or CDOT, is in the midst of replacing 17 treated timber-built bridges in rural areas.

"The majority of these structures were built in the 1930s. In '36, '37, in that time frame. Most of these structures were designed for 75 years. Currently, we’re designing these replacements for 100 years. It’s time, but they’re designed to last," said Scott Dalton who is overseeing the project for CDOT.

But not a single one of the bridges he's replacing is among the 25 bridges rated poorly for more than a decade.

To find out why, we went to CDOT headquarters in Denver to ask Michael Collins, who oversees the state's bridge program.

"Ideally, you don't want a bridge to stay in poor for any duration of time. Ideally, you want to get rid of your poor as quickly as possible or do treatments to bring the condition back up again," Collins said.

In Southern Colorado, there are 25. Statewide, 163 bridges are rated as poor. Some are owned by the state, while others are under city or county jurisdiction. Collins' team prioritizes the bridges for repair or replacement and makes recommendations to each region on which to repair.

News 5 got an update from CDOT that three of the 25 bridges in poor condition are going to be replaced, including the two located in Teller County. The third is an 84-year-old bridge along State Highway 115, over Rock Creek in El Paso County.

Also new, CDOT said the bridge over Six Mile Creek on US 50 in Pueblo County is now being recommended for replacement.

"We're always looking for ways to improve and involve more efficiency into the dollars we have available," Collins said.

The situation used to be far worse. In 2009, CDOT realized nearly 10 percent of its bridges were rated poorly, so it supported legislation to charge drivers an annual fee to help fund repairs. Now, the number of poorly rated bridges is below five percent, Collins said.

According to CDOT data, in the Fiscal year 2023, the state collected $109 million dollars in fees and with it, replaced 10 bridges.

Despite the money the annual fee brings in, Collins acknowledged that bridges will continue to age across the state, and there just isn't enough funding to keep up with repairs before some fall into poor health.

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