City contractors lifted a 250-foot-long pedestrian bridge into place Monday over the railroad tracks between the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum and America the Beautiful Park downtown.

The $20 million bridge is an extension of the architectural themes of the museum and expected to become an iconic structure in its own right that will attract visitors, Mayor John Suthers said Monday.

"I am unabashedly calling it the bridge to the future," he said. 

The structure is the latest step in the revitalization of southwest downtown, a vision that's been decades in the making and is now coming to fruition with improvements along Vermijo Avenue, the museum's opening and the construction of the stadium southwest of Cimarron and Sahwatch streets.

Putting the bridge in place was a slow and steady process that required large self-propelled modular transporters, vehicles that provide stable platforms on numerous wheels to lift the bridge into place, said Ryan Phipps, senior engineer with the city of Colorado Springs.

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Colorado Springs residents Marilyn Dehls and Linda Troyer were among the curious who gathered to watch crews maneuver the bridge into place. Their curiosity grew out of thinking it would be a feat of engineering worth seeing, Troyer said. 

"It's all very futuristic. ... It looks like something that would be out at the Air Force Academy," Dehls said of the museum and bridge. 

The bridge came to Colorado Springs in six pieces and crews assembled it before it was placed over the railroad tracks because construction could not disrupt freight traffic for an extended period, Phipps said. 

Architects considered using a crane to place the bridge, but they determined the remote controlled vehicles would be the safest way to lift the 300-ton steel and concrete structure, said Holly Deichmann Chacon, the bridge's architect with Diller Scofidio + Renfro. 

Inspiration for the bridge design was drawn from Olympic athletes themselves and architects sought to make it sleek, minimal and to invoke the idea of motion, she said. 

The bridge’s beauty will also contribute to plans for a modern and urban downtown expected to see about $2 billion in infrastructure and commercial investment over the next 20 years, said Bob Cope, the city's economic development manager. 

“We knew it couldn’t be a typical bridge. … We knew it had to be something extraordinary,” Cope said.

The bridge was part of the planning for the City for Champions projects, which include the museum, and received $8 million of the $120 million in state sales tax increment financing granted to Colorado Springs in 2013 for those public investments, according to the city. 

The project also received $200,000 through a donation and $4.6 million from the 1% sales tax collected by Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. An additional $7.2 million will be funded through property taxes collected by the Southwest Downtown Business Improvement District. The bridge did not require funds from the general sales tax revenues, which support basic city services such as police and fire protection, city spokeswoman Kim Melchor said.  

Once open, the bridge is expected to help draw pedestrians to the somewhat isolated and under-used America the Beautiful Park, and make it easier to hold events there by providing a direct link to parking on the east side of the bridge, Phipps said.

It is also expected to provide an accessible greenspace for the new residents expected to move to 306 residential units planned for the west side of the bridge next to America the Beautiful Park, said Chris Jenkins, president of Nor'wood. The company plans to build the apartments and condominiums in two complexes -- one on either side of the bridge, he said. The development company has employed an acoustic engineer to help ensure sound from the trains is muffled by the design of the buildings, he said. A sound wall is not planned, he said. 

"We're celebrating the train," Jenkins said. 

The bridge is to open in about six months after the stairs and elevator on the west side are complete, Phipps said. The city must also install lighting, a handrail and metal mesh netting to keep objects off the railroad tracks. The netting will be installed across the oval openings of the bridge and it is meant to be unobtrusive to the casual observer, Cope said. 

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 429-9264.

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