Future of Englewood Bridge, road projects uncertain as city seeks more funding

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When the city of Englewood will be ready to move forward with two major bridge and road projects is uncertain, officials said, after higher-than-expected costs put plans on hold.

“Costs are rising,” said Englewood Mayor Othoniel Sierra. “It’s something we have to find a way to do.”

The city’s goal was to replace the aging South Broadway Bridge on US Highway 285, add a new two-way traffic lane, and create a new pedestrian bridge at the Oxford Avenue intersection between Santa Fe Drive and Navajo Street / Windermere Street, a notoriously busy street. intersection.

The latest cost estimates were $14.9 million for the Broadway and 285 project and $2 million for the Oxford Avenue project, according to city spokesman Chris Harguth, with money coming from municipal, state and federal funds.

But the contractors’ bids exceeded what the city could afford, officials said. The lowest bid for the Broadway and 285 project was more than $4.6 million over budget, while the lowest bid for the Oxford Avenue Bridge was $600,000 over budget, officials said.

Now city leaders will have to explore a range of options to fill the gaps, including seeking additional funding from the Colorado Department of Transportation – CDOT – and the $550 billion Highways Investment Act. infrastructure and employment adopted last year.

Prioritizing funding one project with another’s money is also “an option on the table,” Sierra said.

The moratorium has raised concerns among experts who say aging infrastructure threatens the economy and the safety of cities if not addressed quickly. The South Broadway Bridge, for example, was completed in 1955, meaning it could have a “lifespan of around 50 years”, according to Englewood project manager Jake Warren.

The most recent investigation of the bridge was released by CDOT – which owns the structure – in July 2021 and found the bridge was not deficient. On a scale of good, fair, and poor, the agency rated the condition of the bridge as fair.

A CDOT spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“These ratings are a long way from saying the bridge is going to collapse tomorrow,” said Steve Long, affiliate professor of engineering at Metropolitan State University in Denver.

But Long said the bridge will need regular maintenance due to its age. City officials said the bridge was not a top priority for Project 285, which is more focused on road expansion, with Sierra adding that he was “confident” in the integrity of the bridge.

But bridge failure can be quick, said Paul Chinowsky, professor emeritus in the department of civil, environmental and architectural engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“There’s not a lot of slow degradation,” said Chinowsky, whose results can be “catastrophic.”

A recent example, Chinowsky said, occurred in Pittsburgh in January when a 50-year-old bridge collapsed just hours before President Joe Biden arrived in the city to tout the infrastructure law. of 550 billion dollars.

Closer to home in 2019, a retaining wall that supported US Highway 36 between Denver and Boulder failed due to weakening clay soil below.

Such incidents are visceral reminders of the consequences of decades of disinvestment in the country’s infrastructure, Chinowsky said.

“When you look at it nationally, you’re in bad shape,” he said. “A lot of our infrastructure was built in the 60s and 70s, the roads and the bridges, they’re at the end or past their lifespan… they’re starting to break down.”

And with extreme weather events becoming more frequent due to climate change, such as flooding and intense heat, outdated infrastructure is even more vulnerable to outages, Chinowsky said.

Failing to address such projects could have a direct impact on climate severity, said Long, who pointed to Englewood’s proposal for the Oxford Avenue pedestrian bridge as a key way to encourage more transport that does not contribute. not to fossil fuel emissions.

“You have to start moving that today,” he said. “VSkeep moving and creating mod choices for people.”

Both long and Chinowsky said Englewood’s funding issues were far from unique, with inflation and supply chain disruptions driving up material and labor costs across the country. .

“The reality is that local governments cannot afford to maintain their infrastructure,” Chinowsky said.

And even with the federal infrastructure law, local governments like Englewood will be “in competition” with each other for that funding, he said. But by failing to act, cities also risk potentially worse financial outcomes in terms of damage costs if infrastructure begins to fail.

“The economic impact will far exceed the costs of repairs and replacements,” Chinowsky said.

Sierra said Englewood leaders remain committed to completing their plans.

“Infrastructure is the city council’s top priority,” he said. “Knowing that this is a problem that everyone goes through, I’m sure there will be a way to solve this problem.”

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