New bridge spans the San Juan

With springtime harkening the return of cranes to the San Luis Valley, Pagosa area residents boasted the arrival of two large cranes recently, their necks prominent against the downtown skyline.

Unlike the infamous Sand Hill and Whooping cranes that flock to the high savanna this time of year, however, the Pagosa cranes were enormous by comparison and only temporary residents, roosting here to fulfill a singular purpose: the installation of the Town Park Pedestrian Bridge.

Monday morning, the cranes lifted the bridge — over 90,000 pounds of steel, preconstructed last year and languishing on the north bank of the San Juan River for the past week — onto recently constructed abutments on both sides of the river. Bought and paid for from the 2008 budget, the engineering, materials and fabrication of the bridge ran the town just under $160,000, while estimates for the entire project hit somewhere around $608,000. However, two Colorado Department of Transportation grants will offset final costs for the entire project, reimbursing the town $310,000 after completion.

“The town has already paid for the bridge,” said Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem. “There’s about $140,000 to pay this year to complete it.”

Secured to both abutments the same day the cranes took action, the bridge is now in place and should be ready for pedestrian traffic by late spring. Despite an inaugural crossing on Tuesday morning by Phil Keoghan (during his well-publicized visit to Pagosa Springs), construction is ongoing and local residents are advised to steer clear of the bridge until the project has been completed — around mid-June, by most estimates.

“The bridge has been barricaded to keep people off of it,” said town construction manager Torry Hessman. “But we can’t do anything about it if people decide to get on it and we’re hoping they’ll stay off of it. Town police watch all our construction sites.”

Along with placement of the bridge itself, sidewalks will tie in heretofore disparate ends of the town trail system. Integral to that system, the project will literally bridge elements of the system that had been disconnected. With completion of the pedestrian bridge project, the notorious “Trail to Nowhere” will finally tie eastern parts of the trail system, as well as the Reservoir Hill system, to what currently exists of the downtown River Walk.

According to Hessman, immediate plans for the project include the construction of a wing wall, followed by running utilities (and raw water irrigation) through a conduit on the underside of the bridge. Sidewalks to the bridge will follow next, with the installation of light fixtures and railings as the finishing touches for the project.

“The weather is the biggest determining factor on when it gets completed,” Hessman said, “but with the concrete set and the backfill in place, we should be fine. It would have to be a one hundred-year flood to really interfere with the project now.”

Unless the Pagosa area gets hit with record precipitation in the next few weeks, a 100-year flood is a longshot and local residents should be able to enjoy the bridge — and how it ties into the downtown trail system — before the official start of summer. With the five-year project nearing completion, town officials and residents alike should be relieved to have the amenity finally in place.

“Absolutely,” Mitchem stated, when asked if he was pleased at how the project was taking shape. “They’re doing a great job down there.”

SUN photo/Jim McQuiggin
Cranes suspend the new Town Park pedestrian bridge above the water as crews prepare to secure the structure to abutments built into the banks of the San Juan River. Construction on the bridge will continue through the spring with a projected completion date set for early June.