(CBS4)– Some of Colorado’s most endangered places include not a single location, but rather a cluster of 46 bridges. When the railroads pulled out their marshalling yards, they left steel truss bridges behind.
Rather than removing them, town planners have often reused them as walkways. Now, the Colorado Department of Transportation is similarly reviewing bridges across the state, trying to balance the historic nature of these bridges with the growing transportation needs of Colorado drivers.
One of these bridges is at Red Cliff, rising 209 feet above the Eagle River.
“When you see this bridge, you know you are in Red Cliff,” said Kathy Heicher, president of the Eagle County Historical Society. “Bridges can tell stories. As artifacts, they can reveal the history of a county, city, or state.
Heicher says walking under the arches of the Red Cliff Bridge takes her back to the 1930s: “The Red Cliff Bridge is an artefact from FDR’s recovery programs during the Great Depression. It was a time when the federal government was pouring a lot of money into improving roads to get the economy going. “
For two years, workers braved freezing temperatures, suspended over the river below.
“There are stories of workers spending all day on this bridge. They were hoisted on buckets or platforms, ”Heicher said. “When the workers left, the children of Red Cliff came down and used the structure like monkey bars on a playground. “
The bridge eliminated two miles of narrow, steep mountain roads.
“A columnist in the state legislature wrote, ‘It’s the end of bare-handed driving when you pray that you can get past Red Cliff,” Heicher said.
Travelers crossing the bridge can appreciate its usefulness and beauty as it winds around Battle Mountain. Many times, drivers cross bridges without even knowing it.
“A lot of times we get from point A to point B a little bit quickly and we think more about how we’re going to get there than what we’re looking at while we’re on our way,” said Shoshana Lew, executive director. from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The CDOT wants more attention to be paid to historic bridges.
Lew believes that bridges play an important role in cultural identity: “Things like roads and bridges are extremely important in getting us to where we need to go today, but they also bring us back to fundamental times for the Colorado culture. “
CDOT has studied their bridges with a concern for history and practicality.
“First and foremost, we need it to function,” Lew said. “A lot of these bridges are not working for today’s purposes. You can’t just keep them as they were, and it is often very expensive to try to upgrade them.
The CDOT has identified 46 bridges in its network which have historical value and a high probability of being preserved.
“The Cherry Creek Bridge was built in 1946,” historian Lisa Schoch said. “We were able to preserve the original arch of the bridge while widening the structure so that it could meet current transportation needs. “
Bridges come in all shapes, sizes and materials.
“The Zaricillo Canyon Bridge, which is on Highway 12, is a bridge (Works Progress Administration). It’s built at an angle, it has very beautiful stone pillars, ”said Schoch. “I also love Rainbow Falls… It’s nestled in a canyon, it carries US 24. A lot of people have been out there to put graffiti on the substructure of our bridge, so it has that cultural feel. interesting. ”
Some bridges were built with local materials, such as volcanic rock on the Rito Seco Creek Bridge in San Luis.
“For me, these are historic properties. For CDOT engineers, these are functional transport characteristics, ”said Schoch.
For CDOT engineer Michael Collins, this strikes a delicate balance: “We look at the safety requirements, we look at the conditions.”
“Bridges are like an old house. Buying an old house and having that charm and living in it, being able to see it as part of the original design of the landscape it is in, trying to keep it as much as possible, but being able to update it to safety standards today and bring the ability to bring it back to today’s functional needs, ”Collins said.
Meeting these needs creates challenges. For example, those old steel truss bridges have poor vertical clearance issues.
“The safety rail, there’s no right place to mount it on these bridges, so we have to get creative on how we restore those safety standards,” Collins said.
These solutions are neither easy nor inexpensive.
“Figuring out where you get the most bang for your buck by preserving these links is a challenge for us as we grow our infrastructure,” Lew said.
The conversation, says CDOT, is something they look forward to continuing with local communities.
“We want people to kind of broaden the spectrum of what can be historical and what is important to the history of the state and the region,” Schoch said.
“This is why it is important to keep records, to preserve where it is possible to preserve and to ensure that these bridges remain a part of Colorado history,” Heicher said.
The CDOT hopes that the discussion and appreciation of historic bridges will extend to the county and local levels so that historic bridges that are not owned by the state can also be preserved.