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Springs, unabridged:

COSMIX spokesman says 'millions of dollars' the reason Bijou bridge closed as planned



After 13 years of thriving business in Colorado Springs, Mary Lane, co-owner of Seabel's, almost apologizes for closing the boutique store's downtown branch.

"We tried to be positive about things, to be upbeat," she says. "But we couldn't survive the depression."

The depression, she says, blew through in January after demolition of the 50-year-old Bijou Street bridge.

The lifeline that arched over Interstate 25's ever-flowing river of cars tumbled down to make way for a replacement despite emergency construction happening on the city's next most viable east-west route, the Cimarron Street bridge, about one mile south.

"It was almost like our business was cut in half," Lane says. "We would go through hours when there was nobody in the store."

Bill Badger, spokesman for Rockrimmon Constructors, the company overseeing the Colorado Springs Metro Interstate Expansion, or COSMIX, acknowledges that simultaneous work on both bridges was bound to create headaches for businesses and drivers.

But, he says, the alternative was to spend "several million" to keep Bijou open. That was the expected expense if construction crews had to "demobilize and remobilize."

Asked for a specific cost analysis, Badger said none was available.

"It would take a while to come up with exact figures," he says.

Replacement of the Cimarron bridge was originally scheduled for 2010. But last August, a hole in the south half of the bridge forced that side's immediate closure and subsequent addition to COSMIX.

The north side has been reduced toone lane in each direction, with entrances squeezed by concrete barriers that keep out larger or taller vehicles and slow traffic flow to a snail's pace.

Since Rockrimmon workers already are toiling away on I-25 and the Bijou bridge, the company was selected to demolish the problematic half of the Cimarron bridge, Badger says. The city has yet to select a company to rebuild the south half of the Cimarron bridge and to demolish and rebuild the north half. Badger says Rockrimmon has submitted a bid that would include a completion date of spring 2008.

But even that's already months later than what city and state officials predicted in a press release just two months ago.

When complete, the Bijou bridge will be decked out in lights and "stone facade abutments," and will accommodate six lanes of traffic, plus bike lanes and wheelchair-accessible sidewalks. The Bijou bridge is slated to be finished by October.

Some downtown entities say it is too early to tell if traffic has been affected by the Bijou closure.

At the downtown branch of Pikes Peak Library District, January circulation actually improved by 3 percent compared to January 2006. But Sydne Bean, associate director of public services, theorized that a sagging economy might be leading more people to pursue "inexpensive entertainment."

For Lane, business crumbled when bridges tumbled.

"People choose convenience over hassle," she says.

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