CDOT advances bridge repair strategy as local detour opens for critical traffic around Blue Mesa

Courtesy of CDOT
US 50 bridge near the Dillon Pinnacles, located west of Gunnison.

Travel is opening up on a dirt county road that circumnavigates the damaged U.S. 50 bridge at Blue Mesa Reservoir, cutting detour times by several hours.

So far, traffic on County Road 26, referred to locally as the Lake City Cutoff, is limited to “local, essential travel” for certain hours of the day. Travel on that dirt road is open for half-hour periods and led by a pilot car, according to a press release from the Colorado Department of Transportation.

  • Westbound travel will be allowed from 6 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
  • Eastbound traffic will be from 7 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. and from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Travel times on the route are expected to be at least 30 minutes.
  • No vehicles over 16,000 pounds or those with trailers will be permitted.

“We are starting slow in order to increase the chances we can go faster later. The impact on western Colorado cannot be understated and we are exhausting all opportunities and partnerships to mitigate the impacts of the bridge closure,” Martin Schmidt, assistant Gunnison county manager for public works, said in the press release. 

CDOT officials said they are working with Gunnison County to fortify the road to handle increased traffic loads.

“County Road 26 is an important local route that is up to five hours more efficient than detouring via state highways. However, this road currently has a natural roadbed and can only accommodate limited traffic — so it is important that we help Gunnison County focus this capacity on the needs of local communities most impacted by the closure,” CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew said in the press release.

Courtesy of CDOT
US 50 bridge near the Dillon Pinnacles, located west of Gunnison.
Courtesy of CDOT
Identified crack on the US 50 bridge near the Dillon Pinnacles, located west of Gunnison. This photo shows the crack found during the initial investigation.

The location of the closure meant some students who commute to Gunnison schools from the Sapinero side of the bridge had to take a boat home on Thursday. Gunnison Watershed School District Superintendent Leslie Nichols said two high school students will continue taking the “school boat” for now, while younger students have opted for online instruction in the meantime.  

Motorists not traveling locally are advised to take the longer detour routes either on Interstate 70 to the north or U.S. 160 to the south.

Meanwhile, CDOT officials announced they’ve moved ahead with a repair strategy for the bridge, which began with contracting with Kiewit Infrastructure Co., a specialist in steel bridges headquartered in Nebraska. At a press conference on Friday, CDOT Chief Engineer Keith Stefanik said there had been problems nationwide with these types of bridges, which used steel made in the 1960s. There were two such bridges built in Colorado, both at Blue Mesa Reservoir, though no problems were found in the other structure.