Repairs to structure could cost $400,000 to $500,000

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AZTEC — A steel truss bridge spanning the Animas River in Cedar Hill could collapse into the water below, according to a report presented to the San Juan County Commission on Tuesday.

The bridge was closed to vehicular traffic in the 1990s and has since been used as a pedestrian bridge. Earlier this year, the county fenced off the bridge due to safety concerns. 

Nick Porell, the county public works deputy administrator, told the commission that repairing the bridge will cost between $400,000 and $500,000. The bridge will continue to remain closed until it is repaired, replaced or removed.

The county has not budgeted for the bridge repair or replacement, but commission Chairman Jack Fortner encouraged about a dozen residents who attended the meeting to contact state Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, and state Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, about the possibility of funding the bridge repairs or replacement using capital outlay money.

Before the bridge can be repaired or replaced, the county will need a district court decision on easement to the bridge. Currently, the bridge on one side of the river is on private property.

Debbie Johnson, the property owner, said her family does not want a new bridge because the bridge has led to people partying in the area.

The bridge was likely a prefabricated bridge purchased from a Montgomery Ward catalog after the floods of 1911 wiped out many bridges in the county, according to the report presented to the commission on Tuesday. 

The only evidence the county has found about the bridge once belonging to the county is a document from the 1960s that shows County Road 40 aligning with the bridge and crossing the river. Current maps have County Road 2345 and County Road 2380 on either side of the bridge, but the county does not own a portion of the road on one side of the bridge. The county does have access rights to the river for fire suppression purposes.

On the south side of the bridge, the concrete abutment that sits on top of sandstone has a 6- to 8-inch crack spanning the full depth and width of the abutment, Porell said. He said the abutment is in two pieces and is held in place by the bridge.

The condition of the abutment, which is intended to anchor the bridge to the south shore, is only one of several structural deficiencies that Porell said could lead to catastrophic failure of the bridge.

Porell said if the county were to repair the bridge, problems would continue to occur due to the age of the bridge.

"It's going to continue, I think, to need a lot of babysitting," he said.

A natural gas pipeline is also attached to the bridge. The pipeline, owned by Enterprise Products, will be relocated, according to Porell.

Porell said since the county installed the fence blocking access to the bridge, people have been using the pipeline to get onto the bridge. He said it is unsafe for people to be on the bridge. 

"It's not capable of supporting its own weight at this time," he said. 

Porell said replacing the bridge with a pedestrian bridge may be a better option and likely would cost a similar amount to repairing the bridge.

However, residents say the historical nature of the bridge is a reason to preserve it.

"I hate to see the old bridge go away," said Charlotte Metz, a Cedar Hill resident who attended the meeting.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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