Peering up at the Cimarron Bridge from below, anyone can see it appears to be in shambles.
Metal bars line each of three piers that support the bridge's deck. Rusted rebar protrudes through the piers' concrete, revealing a decomposing structure. A crumbling concrete block is bolted to the center pier for what is supposed to be support.
Not ideal for a bridge that serves 40,000 vehicles daily.
"Bridges aren't supposed to be renovated like this," says City Councilor and construction surveyor Tom Gallagher, as he points to a rusted piece of rebar. "You don't attach a block of concrete to a center span on a bridge, and think it's going to last. When you can see rebar, then the bridge is fracturing and falling apart."
But city engineers say there's nothing to worry about yet. With "due diligence" in mind, the city is having Lonco Incorporated, a structural engineering company, do a weekly safety inspection of the bridge. A city inspector also does a daily check.
"We don't want any more surprises," says Robin Kidder, a city roadway engineering manager. "Direct, professional observation is the best way to make sure the bridge is safe and usable."
With more traffic on the roads as summer approaches, and the east-west Bijou Bridge off-limits for months, more eyes are turning to Cimarron Bridge. The hope is that nothing else goes wrong with a structure that's been fraught with troubles, and that continues to draw the ire of Gallagher and motorists around the city.
Last August, discovery of a 4-foot-wide hole necessitated a temporary and sudden shutdown of Cimarron Bridge.
In October, the bridge, which connects Interstate 25 to downtown Colorado Springs, was reduced to just one narrow lane in each direction. These two lanes, situated on what had been the bridge's northern portion, are so tight that trucks, large vans and RVs cannot access the bridge. That's not incidental; it's the only way to ensure adherence to the weight restrictions of 10,000 pounds per vehicle that city inspectors placed on the bridge.
Eight weeks ago, the city demolished the southern portion of Cimarron. When Cimarron is complete in fall 2008, it will contain three automotive lanes and a bike lane in each direction.
'Right on schedule'
CH2M HILL, a Colorado firm, is designing the new bridge, which will mirror the look of the new Bijou Bridge, less than a mile away.
"July is when the actual design of Cimarron Bridge will be done," says Kidder. "We are right on schedule."
He adds, "You can't build a new bridge without a design. It takes a year to do a design, and we will have it done in nine months."
Gallagher finds it hard to believe the design should take that long.
"There is only 250 feet of bridge that needs to be designed," he says. "[Bijou Bridge] is much larger and complicated; Cimarron's not as complicated."
Bijou has been closed since early January, but is expected to be completed later this year. Rockrimmon Constructors, the group in charge of the huge COSMIX I-25 construction project, is rebuilding it.
When the hole was revealed in Cimarron last summer, the city hired Rockrimmon as an emergency contractor to shore it up. The company followed with an offer to do total design and construction on that bridge.
"Between last August and December was the window of opportunity to get Cimarron done," says Gallagher. "Bijou was still up, and we had options. The city, though, chose to wait until Bijou was done to start work on Cimarron."
Kidder maintains that Rockrimmon's price tag was about $3 million more than the $6 million the city wanted to spend.
Beyond Rockrimmon's bid, Gallagher insists that if the city had initiated talks with a large construction firm, such as Bechtel Corporation or Washington Group International, all of the design and construction could have been done in a four-month span, by the end of 2006.
Kidder says CH2M HILL's design of the bridge and construction management is costing the city $600,000. And he's confident that in August, after the design is done, the city will begin accepting bids from contractors in that $6 million range, if not lower. He says contractors including SEMA Construction, Kiewit Building Group and Lawrence Construction are already looking to bid.
Still, as the design is being worked out on paper, commuters are facing hassles.
Those who commute over Cimarron Bridge also must deal with traffic delays. Last holiday weekend, I-25 traffic approaching the Cimarron exit at times stretched a mile in each direction.
For many, going miles out of the way to take detours has proven to be the best available option.
"Everyone has been concerned. I live on the west side and would have to commute over the bridge daily," says Jan Martin, the newest city councilmember. "I honestly avoid Cimarron Bridge. I choose to go north on I-25 and get off on Uintah [Street], and then drive down Nevada [Avenue] to downtown."
Gallagher believes that no detours would be needed if construction of Cimarron Bridge had been addressed last year.
"I'm a function kind of guy. I like to get things done when they should get done," Gallagher says. "The city tends to let things like this bleed for years at a time."