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Ghost Towns Loom as Colorado Flood Repair Bill Clears $1,000,000,000

CO Flood Before and After 940x350

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The devastating floods that damaged the front range of the rockies in Colorado may be over, but the cleanup has just begun and early estimates show that the undertaking could cost over $1.3 billion.  The colossal toll follows the evacuation of nearly 18,000 homes and 1,000 businesses.  

Flood waters destroyed thousands of acres of farmland and damaged oil-storage facilities.  An estimated 27,000 gallons of oil were spilled in the South Platte River valley and the rains shutdown 1,900 oil wells, of which only a third have returned to operations. Gov. Hickenlooper has designated 17 counties as disaster areas and released an initial $12.3 million in disaster aid.  

Among the major expenses caused by this unprecedented flooding will be roads and bridges, which will likely take years to repair:

The Colorado Dept. of Transportation says it lost 50 bridges and more than 200 miles of highways. Two weeks after the storm, sections of 15 major roads remain closed. CDOT released $100 million in contingency funds and received $35 million from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation in “quick relief” monies for repairs, but Hickenlooper said long-term rebuilding could cost “several hundred-million dollars.”

The governor, who toured damage in the canyons by helicopter with Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 23, is seeking $500 million in federal emergency funds. For that to happen, Congress would be required to lift the $100-million emergency cap, as it did for areas hit by Superstorm Sandy. After the tour, Biden said the initial emergency funds from the federal government “aren’t going to be enough. We’re going to keep working with the governor until we make you whole.”

The governor set a Dec. 1 target date for completion of temporary road and bridge repairs. Meanwhile, CDOT has formed an infrastructure recovery force to spearhead emergency repairs.

The phased plan includes help from the National Guard and private contractors who are using fill material and gravel paving combined with military-style modular bridges to provide faster access to towns cut off by the floods. A long-term reconstruction phase will redesign and rebuild highways through high-risk areas to make them more flood-resistant.

Local politicians in the small mountain towns which saw the most damage are realizing the enormous task ahead of them in rebuilding infrastructure with a limited budget.  While the federal and state government is willing to help, the $1.3 billion price tag could continue to rise:

In Boulder County, one of the hardest-hit among more than a dozen counties struck by flooding and mudslides in the second week of September, Transportation Director George Gerstle estimates that as much as 100 miles of roads need rebuilding or repair, along with 10 bridges. It is likely to cost $100 million, 10 times his annual budget.

Roads traversed precarious mountain routes in western Boulder County, hugging creeks and rocky canyon walls. Now, “there’s no evidence of the road ever having been there” in many places, Mr. Gerstle said. “Every major road connecting the mountains to the plains has been ripped out.”

In Larimer County, north of Boulder, recovery manager Suzanne Bassinger said 35 bridges were severely damaged and 30 more were destroyed. She estimates the costs of rebuilding the bridges and roads in her county at as much as $60 million. “When a bridge is gone, it’s pretty hard to construct access,” she said.

The Colorado Department of Transportation has issued four contracts to begin immediate infrastructure repairs.  For many towns affected by the flooding there are limited transportation options. In certain situations only one or two roads are available to leave and enter town.  Without access roads, many of these mountain towns could quickly become ghost towns: Via the Engineering News-Record:

CDOT issued contracts on Sept. 23 for four contracting teams to begin road repairs and reconstruction. The agency selected Kiewit Infrastructure Co., Littleton, Colo., to make temporary repairs on U.S. 34 through Big Thompson Canyon; Skanska USA Civil West, Cortez, Colo., and Ralph L. Wadsworth Construction, Draper, Utah, to repair state Highway 7; and Lawrence Construction Co. and URS Corp., both of Denver, to work on highways east of I-25. Lawrence also will repair state Highway 72 through Coal Creek Canyon, near Denver.

“There is no set cost for these contracts and no liquidated damages,” says CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford. “We are aiming for a Dec. 1 completion. But that’s a goal, not a firm deadline. We will pay them whatever it takes to do the work, and they are starting it immediately.” The repair contracts were issued on a qualifications basis, not as low-bid jobs, she says.

Before and after photos (like the one pictured at top), help convey the extent of the damage.


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