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A bridge too far?



As adoptions go, bridges don't top the list for cuddly things to rescue. Which is too bad for the Colorado Department of Transportation, at least as it seeks a new home for a historically significant 76-year-old green truss bridge east of Colorado Springs.

CDOT has assigned the Black Squirrel Creek bridge on U.S. Highway 24 a "sufficiency rating" of 43.2 on a scale where the top rating is 50, says spokesman Bob Wilson. While part of the rating is based on deterioration of concrete and exposed rebar, the Old Green Bridge, as it's called by locals, has been deemed risky largely due to its dimensions, Wilson says. It's only 31 feet wide.

"With two-foot shoulders," he says, "that's too small a margin of error. It makes for an insufficient area to pull over or to swerve. Because it's so narrow, that structure acts as a bottleneck in the area."

In addition, the bridge has a vertical clearance of only 15 feet, 9 inches, nine inches short of the minimum now required for highway bridges, Wilson says.

Fabricated by Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Co. and erected by Charles B. Owen and A.S. Horner in 1935, the bridge was listed in 2002 on the National Register of Historic Places. According to Lisa Schoch, senior historian in CDOT's Environmental Programs Branch, it qualified because it's "a good intact example of a standard Colorado highway department truss bridge," and also played a role in making U.S. 24 a key link with interstate traffic.

To add spice to the bridge's history, lore has it that the hollow concrete abutments once housed World War II German prisoners of war, who farmed, logged and did construction work in the Peyton area.

"They called it the jailhouse abutment, with a boxed-in area with small window slots," Wilson says. The state hasn't been able to verify that account, although it made for a lively tale told by guides on tourist rail lines that used to run between Colorado Springs and Limon.

Now, the bridge is one of only a handful of its type in the state, and it's doomed for the scrap heap. Unless a new owner can be found.

Via its "Adopt a Bridge" program, which has salvaged two bridges for use in Estes Park for biking and hiking paths, CDOT has offered the bridge to El Paso County and Colorado Springs. An April meeting of state and local officials didn't result in a deal, amid county concerns over cost.

Though the bridge is free and CDOT would store it for a time at no charge, the cost to dismantle and reassemble it elsewhere could be substantial. "It's almost like building a new bridge," Schoch says. "It's complicated."

County spokesman Dave Rose says in an e-mail the county believes those "considerable costs ... would very likely be far in excess of the costs associated with construction of a new bridge of the type typically required for a trail." Rose didn't put a dollar amount on what the relocation cost might be.

So, if you're interested in the ultimate recycling project or Erector Set, contact Schoch at 303/512-4258. But don't hesitate — construction of its $4 million replacement, funded with vehicle registration fees, starts in October.

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