Glenwood says goodbye to bridge that has spanned six decades
BRIDGE CLOSED MONDAY
• Traffic crossing the river must take Exit 114 and follow the marked detour along Midland Avenue to Eighth Street to downtown.
• RFTA and Ride Glenwood Service is free.
• Exit 116 is open for business access.
• Public parking is available at Glenwood Springs Mall with shuttle service to Sixth Street.
A lot of longtime Glenwood Springs folks have a special memory of the Grand Avenue bridge – good, bad or indifferent – but maybe none quite as crazy as Brett Morrison’s.
“It was Super Bowl Sunday and a bunch of us were over at the Hotel Colorado watching the Raiders play the Redskins,” he said of the 1984 classic that saw the Raiders, led by running back Marcus Allen, pummel the Redskins, 38-9.
“About halfway through the game, Greg, I won’t say his last name, comes running into the hotel soaking wet with the cops after him,” Morrison shared during Glenwood’s Summer Block Party Saturday evening on Cooper Avenue.
Turns out Greg had jumped from the old walkway that was attached to the side of the highway bridge into the frigid waters of the Colorado River below, and lived to tell about it.
Oh, and the cops never caught up with him either.
The street party, featuring kids games, bands, food and spirits, was in part intended to be a farewell to the old bridge.
For Kathy Trauger, a current Glenwood Springs City Council member who grew up in Glenwood, her favorite bridge memory is more sentimental. Before moving to Glenwood, her family would visit in the summer and stayed at a house on Red Mountain Drive west of the river confluence.
“Mom and I would usually come down first, and dad would follow us after he got done with work,” Trauger said of her father, who worked at the Climax Mine in Leadville.
“The house had a big window, and I would sit there with binoculars and watch to see when dad’s car would cross the bridge,” she said.
Tom Cochran managed to get away with driving over the narrow, barely four-lane bridge for years before finally having to take a truck and trailer across the darn thing four years ago.
“I was driving a friend’s truck moving the set for ‘Les Mis’ from the high school,” said the longtime community theater director. “I managed to stay in a single lane all the way over, so I was pretty proud of myself.”
Arlen and Carla Wussow remember the many times sitting in a car on the bridge and feeling it rumble whenever a big truck would be coming the other way.
“Every time I’d walk underneath and look up I’d be wondering how long it would last,” Carla Wussow said.
That old bridge closes at midnight tonight, and the Grand Avenue/Colorado 82 detour onto Eighth Street and Midland Avenue to Interstate 70 Exit 114 goes into effect for 95 days while the new bridge is being completed.
The 64-year-old structure gets torn down starting this week to make way for the final segment of the reconfigured new bridge.
piece of history
“It is a pretty neat piece of history,” added Arlen Wussow.
The “Glenwood Springs Viaduct,” as it is officially known, is on the city’s list of historic landmarks.
The first crossing the of the Colorado River in Glenwood was a wooden bridge built in 1883 by Isaac Cooper at the street that today bears his name. The first bridge at Grand Avenue was erected in 1891, and was designed by Theodore Von Rosenberg to complement the Hotel Colorado.
“By 1953, that bridge needed replacing,” according to a narrative on the bridge in the city’s historic landmarks brochure. “Because of its stature as one of the most important bridges in the state due to its role in regional transportation, a steel-girder bridge was needed to replace the original trusses for such a long-span, urban crossing.
“The Glenwood Springs Viaduct is distinguished as a well-preserved, large-scale example of beam bridge construction in Colorado.”
Construction started and ended in 1953, a much shorter time frame compared to the ongoing bridge construction which is well into its second year.
On March 17 of ’53, the Colorado State Highway Department opened up construction bids for the bridge. Less than a month later, on April 2, it was announced that Gardner Construction won the bid at $363,672.50, according to the historical record.
That pales in comparison to the $125 million cost of the bridge that is being built today by the joint venture of Granite and Wadsworth.
“It is now evident that Glenwood Springs will have, at long last, a new bridge spanning the Colorado River on Grand Avenue,” the March 19, 1953, issue of the Glenwood Post read.
The new bridge was to be longer and “considerably wider, too, having a 30-foot wide roadway with two very wide 15-foot traffic lanes and a 5-foot wide foot traffic walk on both sides of it,” the Post article explained.
Construction began in early June of 1953, soon after the Pitkin Avenue detour bridge was complete.
“Pioneer resident” Eleanor Malaby cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony on Nov. 21, and took the first passenger ride across it. State Rep. John Vanderhoof was master of ceremonies.
bridge worker’s memoirs
His brother, Don Vanderhoof, remembers well his own eight months working on the bridge construction. He was hired by state highway department at the age of 21, and was given a camera to document the construction process.
“One of the jobs I had was checking those (rivets) and to check they were tight,” Vanderhoof told the Post Independent in a June 2016 interview and photo essay showcasing his images.
“We’d find probably 5 percent that weren’t tight enough or were deformed,” Vanderhoof said in an interview with the PI last week.
“Gardner would be pissed off when they had to go back and do it again,” he said. “But it was well-constructed, and they didn’t cut any corners. I really thought it was going to last forever.”
Vanderhoof had been operating on the assumption that he was the last surviving member of the 1953 bridge construction team, until a couple of other men who were also involved contacted him following last year’s newspaper article.
One was Jim Nutting, who went on to be a teacher in La Junta for many years and still spends some time in Glenwood Springs.
The other was Don Allen, who ended up being a coroner in Clear Creek County for more than 20 years.
“I had a nice conversation with both of them, and we shared a lot of memories,” Vanderhoof said.
“The bridge was a big deal at that time, but it’s pretty insignificant compared to what they’re putting up now,” he went on.
Removal of the old bridge at that time was also quite the operation, just as it will be this time around.
Even though it was “pretty rickety,” in his words, highway department officials wanted to salvage it and relocate it somewhere else in the state.
“Gardner said they shouldn’t do that, but at the state’s insistence we tried it,” Vanderhoof said. “We just about lost a man when we dropped a center piece into the river. It scared us all.”
For years, the old wooden bridge was stored at a maintenance facility in Gypsum.
“It might even still be there today,” he said.
Bridge construction was “unbelievably different” in the 1950s.
“We had two tiny cranes, compared to the huge amount of equipment you see out there today,” Vanderhoof said.
The state was close to replacing the Grand Avenue bridge in 1997, until the City Council at the time rejected a plan to basically replace the bridge with a wider version in the same location.
The thinking at that time was that a bypass route taking 82 off of Grand Avenue made more sense, but the city lacked consensus about where a bypass would be located.
The city’s rejection of the bridge replacement plan prompted Colorado Department of Transportation officials to declare, “no bridge, no bypass.” The state did authorize $750,000 the following year for repairs to the existing bridge.