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Construction convoy creeps over Colorado mountains

Caption
(Ed Andrieski)
A section of highway is pictured near Boulder, Colo., on Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, during a tour of the area with Vice President Joe Biden. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)y

DENVER (AP) — A convoy of heavy construction equipment crept over a high-elevation highway through Rocky Mountain National Park on Wednesday to join a massive road rebuilding project after the Colorado floods.

The damage to state highways alone is about $430 million, officials said, with 200 miles of roads and 50 bridges destroyed.

The flooding also caused eight confirmed deaths and damaged or destroyed nearly 1,800 homes.

Trail Ridge Road was closed to other vehicles to make way for the slow-moving convoy traveling from Grand County on the west side of the park to the town of Estes Park at the eastern entrance of the national park.

Sections of the twisting two-lane road are more than 12,000 feet above sea level and traverses steep slopes with breathtaking drop-offs. It is one of only two routes into Estes Park that survived the floods.

State and local highway crews and construction companies are rushing to make temporary repairs to flood-damaged roadways, hoping to get key roads open by Dec. 1, before winter sets in.

Complete damage figures, including problems on private property, weren't available. But preliminary estimates put the initial cost of fixing public infrastructure at nearly $670 million, with more expenses to come.

Meanwhile, state regulators were monitoring spills and damage to equipment in an oilfield northeast of Denver. At least 34,500 gallons had spilled in 11 incidents, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said.

Flooding has hampered attempts to fully inspect storm damage in the oilfield. Where crews can get in, they are using containment booms and vacuum trucks to capture and remove oil-contaminated water.

Five communities remained under orders from the state health department to boil drinking water or use bottled water because of contamination concerns. Health department teams have been dispatched to 20 drinking water or wastewater treatment operations that requested help with assessing damage and planning repairs.

State officials were looking for money for repairs, starting with federal highway aid. Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet asked Congress to lift a $100 million cap on federal money for disaster-related road repairs.

In a conference call with Gov. John Hickenlooper, state and local officials discussed how to pay for emergency repairs, and local governments asked how they could assist their counterparts.

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Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP

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