Damage on Hwy 36, North of Lyons, Sept 15, 2013 [Photo: CO Dept of Transportation.]

 

Story by Luke Runyon, KUNC News.

 

As helicopters continue to airlift the remaining flood survivors out of towns cut off by flooding, state officials are beginning to shift their focus to recovery. 

Thousands of homes are damaged and destroyed. Roads are still submerged and bridges have been wiped out. 

Total damage to transportation infrastructure could approach half a billion dollars…

On Highway 85 just south of Greeley, a helicopter is flying overheard to survey what the flood has done to the area.  Transportation crews are going to be assessing the damage for this entire week, trying to come up with a dollar figure, and miles of roads and number of bridges that have been damaged or completely destroyed by the flood waters.

In the Colorado Department of Transportation command center in Greeley, spokeswoman Ashley Mohr waves her hand over three long tables, covered in maps. 

“Right in here we go through and detail where some of the damage has been identified.”

Colored lines trace each state highway throughout Larimer, Weld, Morgan and Boulder counties, indicating which are passable and which are destroyed.

 “Over there and a couple other places we have folks who are doing the maintenance side of things, the ongoing road closures as the event is still happening, so we’re trying to do proactive and reactive work in here all at once,” she explained.  

Crews are dispersed by truck or helicopter to survey the landscape. Or to close off more roads as the flood waters continue their move along the South Platte River toward the Colorado-Nebraska Border.

 “All of that water is basically converged together and is now moving across the Eastern Plains and creating new situations for us,” Mohr said.  

In communities where the high water has already plowed its way through, the focus is on restoring access. On the short list are: Lyons, Estes Park, Poudre Park, and Millikin.

 “Those are the towns that we’re looking at and saying ‘ok, what do we gotta do to get permanent entrance into it and exit out of it. So that’s where our number one priority is,” said Johnny Olson, a regional director for CDOT. 

He says this flood doesn’t even begin to compare to other events his crews typically respond to, whether it’s fire, mudslide or snowstorm.

 “There’s so many communities. There’s so many people affected by this,” Olson said. “This is probably one of Colorado’s biggest disasters in terms of a mass area than I’ve ever seen and I’ve been in the business for 21 years. It’s devastating to a lot of people.” 

 Olson says roads hit the hardest were highways 34 and 36, the main arteries into the town of Estes Park. Crews are attempting to fortify highway 7, a narrow, winding mountain road that leads to Estes before the inevitable snows shut down Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Emotions across the Front Range are high, Olson says. And the massive scope of this disaster has strained his department’s resources.

“They are dedicated, they are loyal and they are working a lot of hours,” he added. “There are people running two or three hours of sleep. I know emotions are raised, but help us get through this disaster as we help you get through this disaster.”

Crews will be tallying which roads and bridges will need the most work all this week. Olson says repair costs could approach 500 million dollars. So far, the federal government has pledged five million for the rebuilding efforts, with more on the way.