Larry “Fuse” Masters works on the Manitou Art Center’s new mural on Sunday, Aug. 14. The mural, which pays homage to legendary Manitou artist Floyd D. Tunson, was celebrated during the art center’s “Running with Scissors” event.
Photo by Rhonda Van Pelt
After lengthy discussion Tuesday, Manitou Springs City Council decided by informal approval to go ahead with the demolition of the Brook Street bridge.
On July 5, Council voted to demolish the bridge, which has been undermined and weakened by high water in Ruxton Creek.
Demolishing and replacing the bridge may top $420,000. Residents have asked the city to explore alternative solutions including repair of the bridge.
Councilor Bob Todd, who conducted an extensive review of discussions, actions and more than 500 documents on the bridge, requested that the discussion take place at Tuesday’s Council meeting.
“The July 5 decision was based on limited information,” Todd said Tuesday, referring to the 6-1 vote as a “snap Council decision.”
Todd said he was not committed to a particular outcome for the bridge but wanted “to make a more informed decision going forward.”
In particular, he asked about a determination that the bridge was in imminent danger of failure and the consequences of failure, the historic nature of the bridge, clarification of restoration options and alternatives for funding.
Tuesday’s discussion opened with a chronology of city actions on the bridge since it was closed in April 2015.
Interim Public Services Director Shelley Cobau said a project like this requires an evaluation of many factors, including functionality, state and federal criteria, impacts on streets above and below, access for heavy equipment, costs, timeframes and the completed project’s life span.
“We’ve heard over and over again” that the bridge was in danger of collapsing and endangering the community, Cobau said. “Our primary goal is to protect their lives and their property.”
The bridge was closed after a code enforcement officer noticed it was damaged.
“It survived last year’s monsoon season, and we haven’t had much of a monsoon season yet this year,” Cobau said. “I think we’ve been really lucky that we still have something standing there.”
If the bridge failed and blocked the channel, crews would have to perform dangerous work with an excavator to remove the debris, she said.
Funding options limited
The city explored various funding options for repairs to the bridge that included assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state historic sources, Flood Recovery Manager Sara Hartley said. The federal agency turned down the city’s request to include the bridge within the May disaster declaration, and no other potential grant sources proved viable.
“Our intent for the whole process was to proceed with repair,” Hartley said. “We wanted to preserve and repair that bridge.”
Hartley said a request for statements of qualification was issued earlier this year that sought proposals for work on the Brook Street and Mayfair Avenue bridges and the Spencer/Davon retaining wall.
Two proposals were received, and Amec Foster Wheeler was chosen. The firm submitted three options for consideration and began researching costs. The two proposed repair options both greatly exceeded the $110,000 the city had budgeted.
The third option, demolition and rebuilding, was discussed at Council’s May 17 meeting.
“There was no formal vote, but the discussion and direction leaned toward the path that led toward removal,” Hartley said.
On June 17 Council directed the Public Services Department to proceed with demolition through the Historic Preservation Commission, and an application for a demolition permit was filed “with the clarification that the bridge was in imminent danger of failure,” Hartley said.
She presented documentation about the threat of failure to Council at the July 5 meeting and, after Council’s vote to demolish the bridge, Amec Foster Wheeler began developing demolition specifications and plans.
Bob McGregor, principal water resources engineer at Amec Foster Wheeler, said that as the company explored the repair options, “we realized that a lot of other issues were involved. It is desirable to preserve the bridge, but there is a safety issue. A lot of commercial and residential property would be impacted by failures” of the Spring Street or Brook Street bridges.
Repair options were found to be more expensive and difficult than originally thought.
“This is a tough site,” McGregor said. “It’s tight. It’s really hard to do anything at this site, much less figure out how to get a liner inside the existing bridge.”
Work would require heavy equipment working near homes and pulling federal and state permits that could take up to a year to obtain.
“When all those details were taken into account, costs rose,” McGregor said.
McGregor said the firm’s recommendation to demolish the bridge stemmed from a determination that the bridge was in imminent danger of failure. He noted that FEMA had determined the bridge would not withstand a 10-year flood.
“There is a 10 percent chance it can happen in any year,” McGregor said. But “it may not be a flood that causes it to fail,” he said, adding that the foundation’s base is moving because of long-term erosion. McGregor said the bridge’s fate must be considered within the context of the entire Ruxton Creek channel.
“This bridge is a bottleneck,” McGregor said. Apart from the risk of failure, there are “long-term negative consequences of making permanent a structure that is a restriction in the flood plain and the domino effect it has.”
McGregor said the Brook Street bridge also should be considered as just one factor in the city’s overall infrastructure needs.
“Manitou Springs is in a tough spot,” he said. With an estimated 29 percent of the city’s assessed value within the flood plain, “you have as many flood recovery challenges as anyone within the state. The risks you’re dealing with are unusual in terms of risk to life and property value. You have unusual challenges in capital improvements projects.”
For all of these reasons, “it was our advice to the city staff that the best approach is to deal with the short-term problem, remove the bridge, then allow yourselves the freedom to look at all the bridges and have an overall program that protects public safety. … It is best to remove the bridge and perhaps replace it some day.”
Steve Lowe, who said he was an engineer with bridge experience, said the bridge could be remediated by construction from the top, not from below, as had been previously proposed.
“You remove material at the top of the bridge very slowly and cautiously, reinstate the concrete arch barrel on the outside of the bridge, and pour concrete where it is lacking,” Lowe said. “That is very simple and much cheaper. This bridge will fail due to scour failure — being chewed out” from below.
Dale Latty, who has brought another repair proposal to the city’s attention, said, “I still think our best, most effective move right now is to plug that hole so we don’t have scour. If we do that, I think the imminent failure question is resolved.”
Brook Street resident Angela Kantola said she was concerned about demolishing the bridge without a commitment to replace it.
“I get a little nervous when I hear ‘perhaps replace it,’” Kantola said. “I can’t imagine that without having bridges on both ends.”
Jim Romano said not replacing the bridge would be problematic for the residents.
“It seems to me we have a public compact as a community,” Romano said. If the bridge is a bottleneck, “doesn’t that make it everybody’s issue? If you do take it out, I hope you will take action to replace it as soon as possible.”
Whether the bridge is repaired, torn down or replaced, the city must consider access for fire trucks, Manitou Springs Fire Department Capt. Randy Perkins said.
McGregor said a Boulder firm could make the kind of repairs Lowe described, but that it would be expensive.
“Maybe a new bridge is part of this, or road alterations,” McGregor said. “It is premature to say what would be the best solution … (but) it’s not that easy just to get in there and fill the hole with concrete.”
Councilor Becky Elder said she was reluctant to put so much money into the bridge “when we seem to have an alternative. I like the idea of restoring it from the top. I don’t think tearing down the bridge and not having it is the way to go.”
Councilor Randy Hodges and Mayor Pro Tem Gary Smith disagreed.
“It’s time to move on,” Hodges said. “I voted for demolition and I don’t think I made a snap decision. I always considered that we would immediately start the replacement process. I still stand by my decision to demolish and rebuild the bridge.”
“We have to listen to our experts that we hire,” Smith said. “I think we’ve been educated enough on this. I think we need to remove and replace it.”
Todd said that, as much as he has studied the issue, “this evening (provided) a lot of new information.”
“We can go forward with completing the process regarding demolition,” Todd said, but suggested that the Historic Preservation Commission conduct the demolition review that was short-circuited by Council’s decision.
“They have indicated that they have a grant that can be submitted to the state, and that we can get a loan pending receipt of that grant,” Todd said.
He also proposed appointing a nine-person panel “to go through a dialogue in the manner that Manitou Springs Forward suggested. … These are two directions we can go, maybe both simultaneously. I support being deliberate about this.”
“I feel like I did not hear anything tonight that I haven’t already heard,” Mayor Nicole Nicoletta said. “Bob’s ideas … I feel like all that’s been done. … I want us to stay the course we’re on — take down the bridge and replace it as soon as possible.” Nicoletta asked for agreement on that course, and Hodges, Smith and Councilor Coreen Toll concurred.