By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Three Hill County bridges are being replaced this summer with a grant from the Montana Department of Transportation.
The county Road Department plans to devote more time to maintaining all of the county's 34 bridges, road superintendent Jerry Otto told the County Commission on Monday.
"We're going to be doing a lot of bridges," Otto said. "There's going to be a lot more bridge work."
Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said time and spring storms have taken a toll on the the bridges.
"There's just been a lot of damage," she said. "(There's been) severe runoff problems the last several years. Violent storms and huge runoffs. They're getting older."
Two of the three bridges being replaced this summer are in Beaver Creek Park. The other spans Sage Creek north of Rudyard. The projects are funded by a $175,000 Treasure State Endowment Program, or TSEP, grant. The grant calls for a work-in-kind match from the county, meaning county employees and equipment will be used for the projects.
The two bridges in the park, the Big Hook Bridge just south of Rotary Pond and the other at Quarter Gulch, will be built by the Road Department. The cost of replacing each bridge is about $50,000. The county bridges are not part of the state's project to rebuild State Highway 234.
Crews will build the structures off-site, then transport and install them in one piece, Otto said. The result is that the bridges will be out of commission for only a very short time.
"The time we'll be shut down will be very limited," Otto said.
The Wanke Bridge north of Rudyard will be an aluminum and concrete structure built by a private firm, Otto said. The Road Department has not yet sought bids for the project, he added. The cost of that project is expected to be about $200,000.
The Road Department has identified several other bridges that need replacing, Otto said Monday. A bridge north of Inverness and another one north of Hingham are two that the department is "watching really closely," he said.
Otto said he does not expect that the Road Department will be involved in the construction of the new bridges but will probably contract them out.
The county was also awarded a $15,000 TSEP grant to study some of the county's bridges. The study will assess the structural integrity to determine which need to be replaced next, Commissioner Doug Kaercher said today.
After the study is complete, the county will apply for additional grants to replace the bridges, he said.
Otto presented his proposed budget to the commissioners during Monday's meeting. He indicated that the total budget would probably not change much from last year.
"We're spending money on different things, but the bottom line is the same," he said.
Last year the Road Department budget was $1.4 million. Kaercher said that although the preliminary budget is the same, the final figure could move up or down.
The Hill County Road Department is funded by two levies. The first, and largest, is paid by rural residents for the maintenance of county roads. The levy is not applied to the residents of Havre and Hingham, Hill County's two incorporated cities. The second is levied on all residents of Hill County and is for maintenance of county bridges.
In addition to his proposed budget, Otto also presented a five-year plan, the so-called wish list of the Road Department. For fiscal year 2003-2004, Otto said the department would like to replace two or three tractors, two trucks and an end dump, and purchase a Tiltmaster trailer, a dozer blade, and a Bobcat. The list also includes office equipment like a typewriter and a computer.
The commissioners will determine the final budget in August.