Blue Mesa bridge set to reopen July Fourth weekend

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

Updated at 8:05 p.m. on May 21, 2024.

Highway officials aim to have the US 50 bridge over Blue Mesa open for the July 4 holiday weekend. The bridge has been closed since April 18 after inspections revealed a crack in the steel.

During a meeting with Gunnison County residents Tuesday night, Colorado Department of Transportation Director Shoshana Lew said the timeline for repairs would be weather-dependent. The opening would also only allow for limited traffic early on, with complete repairs scheduled for completion by the fall. 

“There's a lot that has to go right, particularly with the climate. I think it was snowing earlier (Tuesday),” Lew said. “But if conditions make it possible … we'll streamline the work to do the first round of repairs to get it open to limited traffic by July Fourth weekend.”  

Federal highway officials had identified problems with this style of bridge nationwide, which led to increased scrutiny of the structures.

The governor's office declared a state of emergency and Colorado’s two senators have also pushed for more federal aid in the wake of the closure. Gunnison Valley Health had to restructure how it received critical supplies and how to move patients that need care at other facilities.

Since then, crews have been inspecting the bridge for damage and preparing repair options. 

A local detour route was opened along County Road 26, with timed passage on the dirt road escorted by a pilot car.

Jason Smith, Region 3 transportation director for CDOT, said four locations have been identified as critical and in need of immediate repair. They include two areas where cracks were found in the steel and two other areas where a large number of “anomalies” were found. 

“Once those four locations are stabilized and repaired, then that's when we feel like we can put more loads onto the structure,” Smith said.

A complete inspection of the bridge has taken weeks. Crews needed to inspect 118 locations, and that process involved removing paint, ultrasonic scans as well as analysis by experts. Smith said they were looking for anomalies in the welds that could lead to future problems. The total inspection turned up 183 anomalies, he said. 

“Just to kind of ease everybody's mind, the anomalies have been there this entire time. We will have to address those, but we calculated the structure safe,” Smith said. “And we're able to put loads back onto the bridge during construction and run throughout the project.” 

Jason Proskovec, a project manager with Kiewit Infrastructure Co. for Colorado, said the initial repairs will require installing steel plating at the four critical locations found during the inspection process. In total, it will be 7 tons of steel and 280 bolts that need to be installed per location. 

Once those repairs are complete, limited traffic can open up on the bridge while further work is done to bolster the structure and “to get the bridge back to its original condition,” Proskovec said. 

“These repairs will take a little bit longer in duration to complete, and they'll also be able to perform safely in between these traffic intervals that will open here on July Fourth,” Proskovec said. “So, as these repairs are made, there'll also be a gradual increase in loading on the structure.” 

Proskovec said fabrication on the steel will begin this week. Once the steel arrives in early June, crews will be working up to 24 hours a day on installation.