US 50 Bridge west of Gunnison closed indefinitely due to safety concerns


DENVER (KDVR) — A bridge along U.S. 50 that crosses the Blue Mesa Reservoir in southwest Colorado closed on Thursday because of cracking in a particular type of steel. Drivers will be subject to a lengthy detour to get around it.

The recommended detour is on Interstate 70 to the north or U.S. 160 to the south. The northern route is 354 miles and adds around six hours of travel time, while the southern route is 331 miles and adds around seven hours of travel time, CDOT said.

The bridge, built in 1963, is west of Gunnison near Dillon Pinnacles. State inspectors found a defect at mile point 136.3, and a second inspection on Thursday “identified anomalies in the bridge,” according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. On a Zoom call on Friday, CDOT confirmed there was a crack in the steel grinder midway through the bridge. “This inspection was required because of known issues with similarly constructed bridges elsewhere in the country,” CDOT said in a release. The Federal Highway Administration made the requirement.

CDOT said the issue is with the T1 Steel used on the bridge. There are only two bridges in Colorado that use the T1 Steel, and the other is also on the Blue Mesa, so crews do not anticipate this to be an issue with any other bridges in Colorado.


The bridge over Blue Mesa Reservoir on U.S. 50 was shut down April 18 after crews further inspected a crack along a steel beam discovered a week earlier. “Ultrasonic testing” was conducted to determine that the crack was inside the steel and not just on the surface, Colorado Department of Transportation officials said. (Photo courtesy of CDOT)

“We need to understand a lot more about this bridge before we are able to determine a specific timeline for one: fully opening, two: partially opening, and three: for emergency services only,” Keith Stefanik, a CDOT engineer, said during a briefing Friday. “Our priority right now is to get additional inspectors out there to understand what we are up against with these defects.”

Gov. Jared Polis has been in touch with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg about the closure, CDOT Director Shoshanna Lew said.  “While it’s critical that we catch these things before they happen, this is a very impactful closure for the state of Colorado and we need them to understand the impetus to get this open as quickly as possible,” Lew said.

“It is a matter of national conversation which is why the bridge was being inspected at the outset based on known issues with other kinds of bridges like that elsewhere in the country.” The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore three weeks ago, when six construction workers were killed, raised awareness over bridge safety.

The crack was discovered last week during a mandatory inspection for high-strength steel bridges, required by the Federal Highway Administration, CDOT said. The inspection was mandated because of “known issues” with similarly constructed bridges.

The closure is in place on U.S. 50 from the intersection with Colorado Highway 92 at mile point 131 to mile point 138. Drivers should plan an alternate route — which will come with a detour that adds hours of travel time. At this time, there is no estimate on when the bridge will reopen, or if the bridge will require repairs or need to be rebuilt.

“CDOT and local partners are exploring whether it is feasible at this point in the season to clear local seasonal routes that may be able to significantly reduce the detour time for local travelers,” the release said. On the Friday Zoom call, CDOT reiterated that no seasonal routes are open at this time. Several posts on social media alluded to alternate routes, but at this time, those roads are not safe for travel. CDOT said County Road 26 is not open for detouring. Several of the seasonal roads are made of dirt and gravel and are currently covered in snow. Crews are working to assess the alternate roads and find ways to safely clear them for drivers.

While driving across the bridge is not an option at this point, CDOT said recreation on the Blue Mesa under the bridge should not be impacted right now, meaning those with boats can move across the reservoir.

Travelers are urged to check for the latest road conditions.



local detour around the bridge closure on U.S. 50 over Blue Mesa could Reservoir be in place as soon as Monday, allowing only people who live in Gunnison and Montrose counties to reach work, school and medical care.

The Colorado Department of Transportation on Saturday said it was working with Gunnison County to “develop and begin implementing plans to improve a limited local detour so that it can open and carry key local traffic.” CDOT declined to say what the detour around the bridge problem on U.S. 50 might look like, saying only that the detour would depend on “road work and conditions.” Locals, however, were quick to describe a route on dirt county roads that, because it is mud season in the high country, would require regular grading and pilot cars to help commuters navigate safely.

CDOT said in addition to the repair work on U.S. 50, it is working to inspect three critical spans near the middle of the bridge.

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Article courtesy of The Colorado Sun

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