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Shortcut for "critical" local travel created near Colorado bridge closure

The Colorado Department of Transportation and Gunnison County have offered a twice-a-day shortcut along a high mountain dirt road for local drivers locked out of a convenient route between Gunnison and Montrose. 

A pilot vehicle will guide traffic along Gunnison County Road 26 once each direction, morning and afternoon, beginning Monday morning, a combined press release from the two agencies stated. 

The shortcut is limited to "critical" local travel. No commercial vehicles weighing more than 16,000 pounds (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) and no trailers will be permitted. 

U.S. 50 crosses Blue Mesa Reservoir near the Dillon Pinnacles. The bridge is currently closed after a crack was discovered in the steel support structure. Colorado Department of Transportation

Those vehicles, as well as any "through traffic" seeking destinations farther away, are required to use Interstate 70 to the north or U.S. 160 to the south. 

Local travelers have had to use those alternate routes since CDOT closed bridge K-07-B on Thursday, taking them up to 350 miles and eight hours out of their way. The drive between Montrose and Gunnison normally takes 75 minutes. 

"CDOT understands the inconvenience that this creates and is rapidly evaluating options to improve options for residents, businesses, and travelers on the western slope," the press release stated. 

"We are starting slow in order to increase the chances we can go faster later," stated Martin Schmidt, Assistant Gunnison County Manager for Public Works, in a separate CDOT press release. "The impact on western Colorado cannot be understated and we are exhausting all opportunities and partnerships to mitigate the impacts of the bridge closure." 

The crack found Thursday in the steel support structure of the U.S. 50 bridge which crosses Blue Mesa Reservoir. Crews are still inspecting the rest of the bridge's three spans, as well as another nearby bridge built with similar design. Colorado Department of Transportation

CDOT closed the bridge after finding cracks in the steel support structure Thursday. The bridge allows U.S. 50 to cross the western side of Blue Mesa Reservoir, connecting the north and south shores of the largest lake in Colorado. The bridge and the reservoir's dams were both built in the 1960s. 

CDOT stated in a press release Saturday that it was working with the Federal Highway Administration to develop a plan for repairs of the bridge. This, while still completing remaining inspections of all three spans of the bridge. The recent inspections are required by the FHA, according to CDOT, for a specific type of steel construction.

Crews are also inspecting a bridge "with the same characteristics" as K-07-B that is located a few miles west of it. 

The steel support structure of the U.S. 50 bridge over Blue Mesa Reservoir. Colorado Department of Transportation

CDOT has also tenatively selected Keiwit Infrastructure, a private contractor "with unique steel bridge expertise and capability to bring additional resources to the engineering teams on site at the bridge," for the repair project. There has been no timetable established for the project's launch, let alone completion.

Slight upgrades were performed this weekend on County Road 26 in advance of Monday's additional traffic. Regular maintenance will be done during the road's use as a local detour, per CDOT.

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