Plans for Replacing Bear Creek Tunnel Move Ahead
by Beverly Corbell
Sep 24, 2009 | 1200 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
OURAY – Thanks to money from the state’s new increase in vehicle registration taxes, old Bear Creek Tunnel just south of Ouray will get replaced sooner than anticipated.

Ed Archuleta, resident engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation, told the Ouray City Council Monday night that normally money has to be saved up for extensive projects like replacing the tunnel, but now it’s second on CDOT’s priority list.

But it’s an extremely difficult environment to work in – so much vertical – special consideration has been given to the project, Archuleta said.

“We’re designing for rapid construction and trying for pre-cast elements,” Archuleta said. “It’s a difficult construction site, but it helps that we’re building on rock.”

Big rocks can also present problems, he said, and as the road is widened and the tunnel is replaced, a large overhanging rock on the north side of the tunnel will be bolted and anchored.

The new tunnel will also be safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, and a pedestrian overlook is planned so people can have a better view of the Bear Creek waterfalls, and the Otto Mears Memorial will be moved for easier viewing. Parking on the south side of the tunnel will also be discouraged, he said, to make the area safer.

Work won’t begin until 2010, once all the engineering plans are approved, but work should be completed by the fall of 2011, Archuleta said.

Councilmember Betty Wolfe asked Archuleta if the work would mean road closures during the busy summer months.

Archuleta responded that “it would make my job easier,” but that work next summer would be minimal, with prep work like rock scaling.

But it’s the summer of 2011 that the council was worried about, when the heavy work will be done.

“ Five days of closure in the middle of summer could have an economic impact on the city,” said councilmember Joe Kersen.

Archuleta said “there’s no doubt about it” that traffic will be impacted summer after next with the possibility of several days of closure of U.S. Highway 550 during construction.

Kersen asked if the work could go on 24 hours a day to speed things up, but Archuleta said that was difficult to do with contractors.

“The middle of summer would be bad,” Kersen said.

Archuleta assured councilmembers that the work would be carried on as efficiently and with as little impact on traffic flow as possible, but it’s not going to be an easy job during the major work during the summer of 2011.

“In the second season, the bridge gets partially demolished, and it will be one lane on the uphill side with signalers for a good part of the summer,” he said. “This project is very difficult.”

CDOT is doing all it can to have minimal impact during construction, he said, including using steel girders which can be flown in and bolted on site.
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