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Executive order sends $5M, National Guard to bridge closure in NW Colorado

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(The Center Square) – Last month’s closure of the U.S. 50 Blue Mesa Bridge in northwest Colorado due to structural defects led Democratic Gov. Jared Polis to issue an executive order providing $5 million and other state resources.

Funds in the Disaster Emergency Fund were insufficient to pay for many costs associated with the closure, according to the declaration of a disaster issued on Wednesday by Polis. He ordered a transfer of $5 million from the State Emergency Cash Fund to the Disaster Emergency Fund to pay for response, management, mitigation and recovery efforts related to the closure.

Colorado Department of Transportation engineers identified a crack in the bridge on April 17 while performing a federally required bridge inspection of bridges constructed with T-1 steel, a material used more than 60 years ago. Engineers reduced the traffic to one lane and continued inspections on the structure in Gunnison, Hinsdale and Montrose Counties.

On April 18, another inspection and testing by the Federal Highway Administration and CDOT determined a visual surface crack and internal defects closed the bridge due to safety concerns. CDOT reported approximately 118 “internal anomalies or defects” but said “the bridge could be opened to limited loads once the initial surface cracks are repaired.”

In addition to the state funding, Polis directed state agencies to pursue all available federal funding for response and recovering operations. Polis also authorized use of the Colorado National Guard. They’re allowed to respond to needs from the closure and provide support and assistance to law enforcement agencies for traffic control and incident management.

“The Blue Mesa Bridge provides a necessary connection to utilize U.S. 50, the main transportation route in the region,” according to the order. “The closure of the Blue Mesa Bridge creates significant strains on the local economy, health and medical services including emergency care, education, agricultural activities, and daily travel to and from work for community members.”

CDOT announced on Tuesday a goal of allowing limited bridge traffic by July 4.

“It is important to note that the completion of the first phase is dependent on critical factors, including weather,” according to a CDOT release. “Once those initial repairs are completed, they will be followed by subsequent phases of construction to further strengthen the structure and get heavier loads back on the bridge before winter. This work will prioritize permanent repairs fixing all the found anomalies and bringing the bridge back to its original standards.”

CDOT is monitoring other roads around the area and making improvements to ensure safety and structural capacity under increased amounts of traffic.

“While two alternate state routes have been identified to bypass the Blue Mesa Bridge closure, both routes create five- to six-hour commutes for community members and businesses,” according to the executive order. “In addition, the use of these alternate routes is likely to have an adverse impact on the roadway systems in surrounding towns, cities, and counties which are not accustomed to a high volume of traffic. As part of the disaster emergency, the state is investing in maintaining county routes to help them absorb more traffic.”

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