Blackfoot Valley Dispatch - The Blackfoot Valley's News Source Since 1980

By Roger Dey
Blackfoot Valley Dispatch 

County holds public hearing on Dalton Bridge TSEP grant during Gov't Day


Roger Dey

A muddy, swollen Blackfoot River flows under the Dalton Mountain Road Bridge Tuesday morning, May 8.

The May 4 Government day meeting lacked a quorum of commissioners, so Commissioner Jim McCormick hosted it as a listening session, but the meeting also served as a public hearing on the Treasure State Endowment Program grant application for the Dalton Mountain Road Bridge.

County Engineer Dan Karlin and Karl Yakawich with Great West Engineering, the company that completed the Preliminary Engineering Report, discussed the application and the required environmental assessment.

"(Dalton Mountain Road Bridge) is on top of the county's list for the TSEP grant," Yakawich said. "It's got the high use, serving a number of respects back there, as well as access for recreation and business."

Yakawich briefly reminded the 15 or so people who attended the meeting that the existing five-span timber bridge, which has been in place since 1956, has foundation issues with the piles, among other problems. The decaying piles closed the bridge for several weeks last summer, until temporary repairs were completed early last fall.

"We've completed a PER, preliminary engineering report, on the bridge," he said. As part of that, they looked at solutions including replacement options, repair options and possible alternate routes.

"We've identified two preferred alternatives at this point. We've looked at a single-span option and a two-span option," Yakawich said, stressing that the information was still preliminary.

Either would be concrete structures, he said, but the two-span configuration would be less expensive, costing an estimated $1.1 million. A single span bridge would cost approximately $1.25 million.

Regardless, either bridge would be a longer structure than the current one.

"The new bridge would increase the length of the span from the current 105 feet to 150 feet," Yakawich said. "That existing bridge is constricting the channel, so we are planning on opening up the channel a little bit and allowing for more of a natural stream function."

If the grant is received and funded they would move into a final design phase which would allow them to survey the site and look more closely at the two options.

Based on the project cost, the maximum TSEP grant that can be requested is $500,000 Yakawich said. In response to a question about how the balance would be covered, Lewis and Clark County Chief Administrative Officer Roger Baltz said it will be included in the county's capital improvement program under the county budget.

Yakawich said the criteria for the grant is very competitive and looks at several factors, such as the condition of the bridge, preliminary design and cost, a proactive bridge management history by the county, viability of the funding match, whether it provides for economic opportunity or access and, finally, community support.

Yakawich said they wanted to emphasize the importance of community support.

"We want to know what your comments are on the project, and stress that if you could write a letter of support for the project that would help the county's case for the TSEP grant," he said.

Letters of support can be sent to the Lewis and Clark county Public Works office at 3402 Cooney Drive, Helena, Mont., 59602.

During the meeting, Sheriff Leo Dutton agreed to submit a letter in support of the application.

"I know the bridge is vital to public safety for firefighters and ambulance. Looking at things last fire season, it was a substantial impediment to public safety," he said.

Yakawich said the overall timeframe for bridge replacement is expected to be about three months. The permits required for the construction include one from Montana FWP. Due to concerns about the Bull trout in the Blackfoot, the construction window for instream work would have to be completed between July 15 and Aug. 31.

With that limited construction window in mind, bridge replacement wouldn't be able to happen until 2020 at the earliest.

As Yakawich explained, the TSEP application is due June 15, but the grants aren't acted on until the legislature meets in February and March 2019. Even if the project is approved, funding isn't normally released until around July 2019, he said. Only after that point can they get to work on the final designs and the contract bid package for the 2020 construction season.

Among the concerns brought during the comment period were the planned detour route around the narrow and winding Herrin Lakes Road.

"It's got some 90-degree turns on it it's very unsafe in several areas," Lincoln resident Mike Mullens said.

The length of the new structure also brought up a question from Ron Zarr about how it would affect nearby intersections south of the bridge.

"We are looking at raising the road elevations," Yakawich said. "The new structure is going to be quite a bit deeper, so there will be some blending of approaches."

With the recent flooding creating small log jam at the bridge last week, Ted Winderl pointed out the potential for jams on the narrower channel of the two-span design, which divides the stream into two channels, one 105-feet wide and one only 45-feet wide.

Jeanette Nordahl asked what would happen if the grant isn't approved.

"We'll just keep trying, "McCormick said, adding, "The probability of getting the funding is greater than the probability of not getting the funding."

A second hearing on the grant application is scheduled for 9 a.m. May 29 at the city-county building in Helena.


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