Cracks in bridge over Blue Mesa force safety closure, cuts of U.S. 50 between Montrose and Gunnison

A picture of a map that highlights the northern and southern detours for Highway 50 between Montrose and Gunnison.
Colorado Department of Transportation
This map highlights the northern and southern detours for Highway 50 between Montrose and Gunnison. The same detours were used for commercial vehicles during closures for highway work in Little Blue Creek Canyon, just west of the now closed bridge.

Defects in a highway bridge that spans Colorado’s largest reservoir have forced a safety closure, rerouting travel on U.S. 50 between Montrose and Gunnison.

The Colorado Department of Transportation announced in a press release Thursday that inspections of the bridge revealed concerns, leading to a request for closure at the urging of federal highway officials and state experts. 

“A defect was observed during an early investigation of the bridge at approximately Mile Point 136.3,” the release said. “CDOT immediately brought in a second inspection crew with resources to perform another method for testing whether the defect posed a safety hazard on the bridge.”

There is no timeline for the bridge to reopen.

That section of U.S. 50 connects Montrose and Gunnison and is sometimes used as an alternative route for traffic when Interstate 70 is closed. Detour routes have been suggested — Interstate 70 and U.S. 160 — both of which would add hours in travel time. 

“The northern route is 354 miles and requires approximately 6 hours of travel time. The southern route is 331 miles and requires nearly 7 hours of travel time,” CDOT said. 

Local traffic is being allowed through to reach residences, and CDOT said they are working to determine if it is possible to clear local seasonal routes in spring to reduce the detour time.

CDOT said the inspection was required because of “known issues with similarly constructed bridges elsewhere in the country.”

The closed bridge is a few miles east of the Little Blue Creek Canyon project, which was meant to address safety concerns in a narrow canyon stretch of the highway.