Floods Make Many Roads In Colorado Impassable

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Portions of Bellview, Colo., are entirely cut off by flooding. Resident Mark Benjamin has been helping neighbors by rigging a zipline across floodwaters to transport supplies. He talks with Steve Inskeep about the condition of Bellview's roads — and what it will take to rebuild them.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Americans settled Western Colorado one canyon at a time. Rivers and streams were the original highways. Roads, when they came, followed rivers, often on narrow shelves of rock at the foot of canyon walls. And when floods hit Colorado, many roads washed away. In recent days, Colorado resident Mark Benjamin has helped to build a zip line to get supplies to neighbors cut off by flooding.

MARK BENJAMIN: I got 250 feet of cable 30 years ago I've been dragging around with me. And we took her down to the river, and we tied a rock to a rope and threw it across the creek, and my son caught it. And then we dragged the zip line across, and put it up in some trees. If we could get it higher, the sag would still allow a person to go across without dragging their butt in the water.

INSKEEP: Mark Benjamin lives in Bellevue, Colorado. Drought and forest fires swept through the area a few years ago, thinning out the vegetation, which made it harder for the earth to absorb the rains. We called to ask about the flood damage to nearby roads and what it will take to repair them.

BENJAMIN: Starting about a quarter-mile down from our driveway, there's four major breeches where the creek crossed the road. And then, in the canyon itself, most of the curves are gone. The road is gone on the curves.

INSKEEP: I want to make it clear: When you say the road is gone in places where the river and the road curve, you don't mean the road is underwater.

BENJAMIN: The asphalt's gone.

INSKEEP: It's just gone. You're an engineer yourself, right?

BENJAMIN: Yes.

INSKEEP: You must have some feel for what kind of a project it would be to rebuild a road under these conditions.

BENJAMIN: Yes. Yeah. You know, technically, I'm a structural engineer, but it's going to take a lot of dirt - bringing dirt back up here, rebuilding the road bed underneath the asphalt and then repaving, actually assessing it. I guess part of the issue was why it might take years for our road to be rebuilt, is assessing whether it's even worth fixing, because of these type of flooding issues.

INSKEEP: Oh. Somebody might have to recalculate whether this is really a 100-year flood event, or maybe it's going to become more frequent.

BENJAMIN: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Do you think that life is going to get back to the way it was? Or is this going to signal a permanent change in your area?

BENJAMIN: Coupled with the Hyde Park fire from last April, it's going to make a severe impact on the people up here. There are 260 homes. There's less than 50 that have gotten building permits.

INSKEEP: Meaning there were homes that were destroyed, and they just haven't been rebuilt.

BENJAMIN: Yeah. Plus, this road and this access, people who maybe were leaning toward rebuilding up here may not now.

INSKEEP: And if you're talking about roads that have been built in that area since the Great Depression, generations of infrastructure now severely damaged or washed away. It's going to take a long time to build that up again, if it ever is built up again.

BENJAMIN: Yes. I'm surprised I'm talking on the phone to you, because about 17 years ago, they ran a new fiber optic cable up our roads so we could have phone service before the road was paved. And I can see that conduit, where it's just hanging out there in space. The water is hitting it.

INSKEEP: So we're talking through the water right now.

BENJAMIN: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Well, you sound pretty good, considering that.

BENJAMIN: Yeah, yeah.

INSKEEP: Well, Mark Benjamin, I hope the power holds out, and that the phone holds out, and that things get better.

BENJAMIN: OK.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And as we've been reporting, Washington, D.C. is another place coping with tragedy this morning. A mass shooting yesterday at a U.S. Navy Yard left 12 victims dead. The suspected shooter was Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist. Authorities are still searching for a motive. We'll be bringing you updates throughout this morning.

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