By Roger Dey

Dalton Mountain Bridge replacement moving ahead under MDT Off- System Bridge program


November 6, 2019

Roger Dey

Dalton Mountain Road Bridge spans the Blackfoot River west of Lincoln.

In the coming weeks, the Montana Department of Transportation will begin soliciting design consultants for work on a new Dalton Mountain Road Bridge, Roger Balz, Lewis and Clark County Chief Administrative Officer, reported at the Lincoln Government Day meeting Nov. 1.

County Engineer Dan Karlin told the BVD earlier last week that MDT accepted the bridge replacement project into their off-system bridge program in July, when they began requesting the county send them information on the project. "We never get a formal 'you've been accepted,'" he said.

Last October the county formally requested that MDT include the Dalton Mountain Road Bridge in the off-system bridge program, which allows MDT to design and build a bridge that isn't part of their road system. MDT's off-system bridge projects are funded by the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program under the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015. The county looked to the off-system bridge program last year to save county taxpayer dollars.

Earlier this year, the Montana legislature provided the bridge replacement project with about $600,000 in grant funding through the Treasure State Endowment Program. Under the county's orignal plan, the grant would have covered about half the cost of the bridge replacement, with the county footing the bill for the reminder.

"We intend to use our TSEP grant as our funding match. That takes the (county) tax dollars that would be required to do that and takes it down to zero. The grants are able to match each other," Karlin explained.

At Government Day, Balz said the county Public Works department is currently completing work to meet the start up conditions required for the TSEP grant.

Karlin said MDT foots the bill for the design and preparation process and will apply the TSEP grant money to the physical construction of the bridge.

"When it's bid, the county will write them a check for the value of the grant and then we will get re-imbursed by TSEP," he said.

There is a catch to the Dalton Mountain Road Bridge being part of the off-system bridge program, however. Since the MDT projects are mandated by federal codes, they go through a more deliberative and stringent process than county projects, including a full NEPA evaluation. Karlin said with the bridge in state's queue, it will be designed, evaluations will be completed and the project will be ready to go, but construction will have to wait until MDT gets the funding they need to match their estimate. Once that funding is available, they will bid the bridge and build it. Karlin said that means the bridge probably won't be replaced until 2021, at the earliest. He said he hasn't seen a final timeline, and admitted it could be longer.

"We're pushing on them to be as quick as possible," he said.

The bridge was closed to traffic in Aug. 4, 2017 due to concerns about deterioration of the 60-year old timber pilings. Emergency repair work that re-enforced the piles on the east side of the bridge allowed it to re-open as a single lane bridge about five weeks later.

Despite the inconvenience of it being just a single lane, drivers who use the Dalton Mountain Road Bridge regularly shouldn't have to worry about the integrity of the structure.

Karlins said MDT completed its six-month inspection in September and found that the upstream side of the bridge, which handles all the traffic, is holding up well following the 2017 repair work, and here are no changes to the weight limit planned for that side of the bridge.

Karlin said there has been some deterioration on the downstream side, but not enough to be a cause for concern yet. That side of the bridge is closed to traffic.

"We do ask that people obey the traffic controls and not drive over there," he said. "We're watching it closely. We're poring over those inspections reports and if we see anything that needs addressed, we're gonna jump right on it to make sure we don't lose what we have."

Roger Dey

Two years after Dalton Mountain Road Bridge was first closed due to safety concerns, jersey barriers and orange barrels still block off the west lane.


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