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CDOT willing to compromise on McCabe Creek Bridge

The Colorado Department of Transportation has agreed to redesign the proposed McCabe Creek Bridge with a thinner decking structure so that it will have 10 feet of clearance underneath, enough for a future bike path under the highway, on the condition that the Town of Pagosa Springs agrees to take responsibility for all future maintenance of the area.

The McCabe Creek culvert, which is currently rated the worst culvert in this part of the state by CDOT, will become the McCabe Creek Bridge by the end of 2016, if everything goes as planned.

Once CDOT announced its intention to build a bridge instead of just replacing the culvert, the town began asking for enough room for a future bike trail under U.S. 160 along McCabe Creek that would connect the downtown Riverwalk with the north side of town.

According to town planner James Dickhoff, Ed Archuleta from CDOT has agreed, reluctantly, but only if the town will enter into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) that would spell out the responsibilities of the town, which would include sidewalk maintenance, graffiti cleaning, keeping the creek channel clear of trash and debris, and routine painting of the bridge railing.

“Most of these are fairly basic,” Dickhoff told town council last week, “and we generally help CDOT with them, anyway.”

In addition, the IGA would spell out what is within the scope of the CDOT construction project and what would be extra, for which the town would have to pay.

For example, in terms of landscaping, CDOT will seed the side slopes and install plantings at the low-flow channel pockets in the invert of the channel, but if the town wants bushes, trees or flowers, it would have to pay for those.

CDOT would install a chain-link fence connected to the bridge railing that would run along the top of the creek’s bank, but if the town would prefer a more decorative or ornamental fence, say something similar to what exists along the sidewalk above the Town Park athletic field, then the town would have to pay for it.

In addition, the town will take responsibility of replacing the geothermal line to the elementary school, though CDOT has agreed to provide the excavation channel for the work since it will have the equipment on site and the area torn up anyway.

Perhaps most important in terms of a future McCabe Creek trail, however, is that CDOT has agreed to provide the town with a cost estimate for including a bench cut in the new, open creek channel and under the bridge. By designing and building this bench before the bridge is in place, CDOT could save the town four to six times what it would cost to do the work later, Dickhoff explained.

CDOT anticipates advertising for construction bids on the bridge in May of 2015, and has asked the town to give it a list of all requested additions to the project as soon as possible.

Dickhoff has been attending quarterly meetings with representatives from CDOT, and at the most recent meeting, on March 13, CDOT announced it had adjusted the total cost of replacing the McCabe Creek culvert with a bridge. Before, the estimate was $3.8 million, but now it has been increased to $5.9 million.

Now that the plan is to replace the culvert with a bridge, it has become even more necessary to acquire the downstream property.

CDOT has agreed to purchase the downstream property — the old Sears building, which was a Tae Kwon Do studio until a couple years ago, when it became an antique store. That building was built on top of a culvert that was attached to the McCabe Creek culvert.

Keely Whittington, former town special projects manager, had applied for a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado to be used for purchasing the property so the building could be demolished and the creek bed opened up, but her application was recently rejected.

CDOT applied some pressure to the town, trying to force it to acquire the property, but once Whittington’s grant application failed, CDOT changed course and agreed to include the downstream property acquisition in its budget for the total project.

CDOT has already begun the process of acquiring easements and property on the upstream side of the highway, including the building that currently houses Making Things New, a relatively new furniture restoration business and art store.

While the good news is that CDOT has come up with the $5.9 million to fully fund the project, Dickhoff reported at an earlier town council meeting, “the maybe-not-so-good news is they are trying to trim the cost of the project.”

One possible way to trim cost would have been to use a traditional girder system for the bridge deck. With a traditional girder system, because of limitations caused by the elevation of the creek bed where it crosses under the highway compared to where it empties into the San Juan River, there would only be 7 feet worth of clearance. This wouldn’t be enough for a footpath, let alone a bike path.

Another concern, expressed by councilors John Egan and David Schanzenbaker at last week’s meeting, was with the design of the upper surface of the bridge.

Egan reported hearing from several constituents who did not want a structure that would act as a dividing point between the downtown area and points to the west such as the former City Market complex.

Schanzenbaker pointed to the bridge over the San Juan River near 1st Street as an example of what the town doesn’t want. It is dangerous for pedestrians and acts as a barrier, discouraging foot and bike traffic to the businesses on the east end of town.

Dickhoff confirmed that the 1st Street bridge has only two driving lanes, has no shoulders, and its sidewalks are only 3.5 feet wide. On the other hand, the new McCabe Creek Bridge will have four driving lanes, 8-foot-wide shoulders, and 8-foot-wide sidewalks on both sides, as well.

When Mayor Don Volger asked why there had been such a turn around in attitude with CDOT, especially considering just last year it had put the town under so much pressure to try to acquire the downstream property, Dickhoff credited more meetings and efforts towards better communication on the part of town staff for creating a better working relationship with the staff at CDOT.

During the public comment portion of the discussion, audience member Mark Weiler asked about CDOT plans to divert traffic once construction begins.

Dickhoff explained it would be much cheaper to have a detour and finish the project all at once rather than doing the project in two phases.

Furthermore, it is possible, once the old Sears building is demolished, to divert even semi truck traffic along 5th Street, through the alley, and back onto the highway via 6th Street, but it is still early in the process and CDOT has not made that decision yet.

This story was posted on May 29, 2014.