By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Hill County is applying for a $450,000 grant to replace two bridges and a culvert along rural roads during the next three years. If the application is successful, the county will install two culverts to replace a single one at Henry's Bridge, and rebuild the Big Sage and Lineweaver bridges.
The Hill County Commission on Tuesday approved a proposal by Bear Paw Development Corp. to apply for $450,750 from the Montana Treasure State Endowment program to replace the structures. TSEP money is generated through gas tax revenues and awarded by the state Legislature.
The grant would require an equal in-kind match, meaning the county would expend about $450,000 in labor, equipment and material to complete the three projects, said Annmarie Robinson, deputy director of Bear Paw Development.
The bridge replacement plan is divided into three phases, said Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette. The first is to replace the culvert at Henry's Bridge on Big Sandy Creek next year, she said.
The culvert was installed in 1978 after the original bridge was washed out, and has been a headache for county road crews ever since, Robinson said. The culvert cannot handle the volume of water that flows through the creek, even in drought years.
"It's not the right size. The creek has overflowed and toppled the roadway 20 times in 26 years," she said.
Phases two and three would be to replace the Big Sage and Lineweaver bridges in 2006 and 2007, Bessette said. Big Sage Bridge is northwest of Hingham. Lineweaver Bridge is north of Inverness.
If the county's application is approved, it will be the second time Hill County has used TSEP funds to rebuild or replace bridges. In 2002, the county received $175,000 in TSEP funds to replace the Wanke bridge north of Rudyard and the Big Hook and Quarter Gulch bridges in Beaver Creek Park.
The new Wanke Bridge will be a metal and cement structure, while those at Big Hook and Quarter Gulch will be culverts built off-site and then installed, Robinson said.
Those projects are expected to get under way this summer.
The drive to replace the bridges stemmed from a countywide bridge evaluation in 2001. Using a $15,000 TSEP grant, Hill County hired the engineering firm Entranco Inc. to evaluate each of its 34 bridges.
"We look at the structural condition, the importance of the bridges, the detour route around the structure, and we look at the amount of traffic it receives," said Helena-based Entranco engineer Karl Yakawich. "We have a point system, so the bridges receive a certain amount of points for each of these things. Using those, along with public input, we developed a capital improvement plan for Hill County to replace the bridges."
At the top of the list were the Wanke, Big Hook and Quarter Gulch bridges, he said. Once the county secured TSEP funding for their replacement, Entranco in 2003 performed a second field inspection of each of the county's bridges to revise the improvement plan, Yakawich said.
Based on the newest evaluation, it was decided to seek TSEP funding for Henry's, Big Sage and Lineweaver bridges, he said.
"Henry's Bridge is actually No. 8 on the list," he said. "Big Sage and Lineweaver are No. 1 and No. 2 right now. The ones No. 3 through 7 are being addressed through local funds, so it made the most sense to submit the TSEP application with numbers one, two and eight."
Many smaller counties have difficulty maintaining their bridges because they are often too costly for local governments to repair without help, and outside funding sources are limited, Robinson said. Hill County has done a good job of maintaining its bridges with its available budget, she said, adding that all of them are rated "sufficient" by the Montana Department of Transportation. MDT performs bridge evaluations every two years.
The system Entranco used to evaluate the bridges is different than MDT's, which is based strictly on structural integrity, Robinson said. MDT's system scores bridges on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the highest score.
"Most notably, the county takes very good care of their bridges," she said. "All of them are in the 60s and up to the 90s. If you allow it to get down to a very low rating, it means ongoing maintenance has probably not occurred."
Robinson said that although its bridges receive satisfactory ratings from MDT, the county is concerned about the amount of time and resources needed to maintain them, and the disruption that would be caused by a bridge collapsing.
"A lot of the county's workers are doing work on bridges," she said. "The Road Department doesn't have a huge unlimited pool of employees, which takes away from them doing other work in the county."
Bessette said she believes that using TSEP money to replace bridges in Hill County is a valuable use of that money.
"I'm glad we're able to do this," she said. "Without the grant funding, we wouldn't be able to do a lot of these projects."