Eagle County’s beautiful rivers and streams are essential to life. Over the years, they’ve provided transportation, irrigation, electricity, and problems. How do you get to the other side, especially during spring runoff, when fording is difficult? There were actually a few ferries in early days but bridges were the best bet for dependable crossings.
Most of the earliest bridges have been replaced over the years as they wore out and modes of transportation changed. One of the most prolific bridge building periods was during the Depression as a result of the 1932 Federal Emergency Relief and Construction Act. Roads and bridges were built using labor-intensive construction methods, keeping many men employed. [Spanning Generations: the Historic Bridges of Colorado, p.29] The few bridges remaining from this period in Eagle County are included in the National Register of Historic Places, based on very specific criteria applied by the Colorado Department of Transportation. In the case of the Dotsero Bridge, crossing the Colorado River on US Highway 6, historic status was granted because the bridge is part of the federal highway system created during the early 20th century and for its association with a trans-continental highway. It is also a good example of a rigid-connected Parker through truss. U.S. Highway 6, also known as the “Grand Army of the Republic Highway,” is the longest continuous highway in the nation, extending 3,205 miles from Bishop, California to Provincetown, Massachusetts. US 6 was assembled from smaller roadways in different parts of the nation and was finally completed in 1937. [Colorado Cultural Resource Survey, Management Data Form 5EA.25872 p.4] The Dotsero Bridge (1934) is part of this highway adjacent to the Dotsero Cutoff for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, also of historic importance. In the photo below taken standing on the bridge, the railroad tracks can be seen in the distance (just missed a train which would have been a more useful image). CDOT has rated the bridge as “structurally deficient and functionally obsolete.” [CDOT Project FBR 0702-312] You can see degrading concrete and roadbed above, and there are numerous structural issues, corroded steel, and scour issues. Scour is the erosion of materials due to changes in river flows where the bridge is supported and is the leading cause of bridge failure in the United States. Rehabilitation of the bridge would be difficult and expensive. Due to the through-truss configuration of the bridge, it can’t simply be widened and would never meet the rehabilitation goal of adding a service life of 75 years to the structure. Building a new bridge either upstream or downstream and retaining the historic bridge doesn’t meet the requirements for Federal funding as there are no funds available for maintenance of the historic bridge included. Another entity would need to adopt the structure and take care of it. Thus, we’re looking at replacing the bridge. There are also several historic structures near the bridge that are eligible for the NRHP as they retain integrity of design, materials, and setting. Now on the Bill Stephens property, this shed and root cellar were part of the Bill Schumm Ranch, originally patented in the 1890s. Whatever reconfiguration of US 6 to accommodate a new bridge, will need to take these structures into account. If you have some time at the Dotsero exit, cross over the bridge and take some photos while the bridge is still standing. Maybe you’ll get lucky and have a train in your picture. [Colorado State Highway Department is the former name of the Colorado Department of Transportation]