Work on the Bear Creek Bridge, two miles south of Ouray, started in July 2010 with rock removal and road widening. After a winter shutdown, crews returned in April 2011 to replace the bridge that lies more than 200 feet over the canyon along the “Million Dollar Highway.” U.S. 550, from Durango to Ridgway, is also part of the state’s San Juan Skyway, a national Scenic and Historic Byway and an All-American Road.
“The new bridge greatly enhances safety on this very narrow, winding stretch of Red Mountain Pass,” CDOT Region 5 Transportation Director Kerrie Neet said. “And the improved parking area and overlook is not only a safety enhancement for visitors, but a significant improvement on this well-traveled scenic byway.”
The $5.8 million bridge project included construction of a wider structure and an adjacent pedestrian overlook so visitors can take in the dramatic waterfall. Construction of the new bridge involved a great deal of rock excavation, rock stabilization, and work on a remote, high mountain pass where space, resources and any viable alternate routes are extremely limited. The team used prefabricated bridge elements and bridge decking, which helped keep the project on schedule.
“There were many challenges that came with this project – including its historic location, the difficult geology and topography, and getting the work done with limited space and still moving traffic through,” CDOT Project Engineer Joe Colley said. “Overall, though, we had no major setbacks, and we’ve had a lot of positive feedback from the community. I think this will be a showpiece that will draw people to the area.”
The Bear Creek Bridge was first constructed in 1883, as part of the Otto Mears toll road. The private toll road was transferred to Ouray County around the early 1890s, and then later to the state’s division of highways; . CDOT constructed a new bridge in 1922, and again made improvements in 1962. In 2009, the bridge was one of two bridges in Ouray County given a poor rating, making it eligible to receive funding from Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery, a Senate bill passed in the 2009 General Assembly. The legislation was developed to address Colorado’s structurally deficient, poor bridges and safety projects throughout the state, and is protected from redirection into other state programs during a budget crunch. FASTER is funded through rental car fees and a nominal increase in vehicle registration.
“The FASTER funding did exactly as advertised: it replaced a bridge with a remaining service life of one to six years and it provided work opportunities to many Colorado contractors, subcontractors and suppliers,” ACC President Randy Maher said. “ACC also got to build a structure we are very proud of, from its dramatic setting to its many challenges.”
For information on the history of the Otto Mears toll road and monument, visit