By Ross Markman
According to an appraisal of Hill County's bridges unveiled to the County Commission last week, the 55-year-old Wanke Bridge is the span most in need of repair.
A week from today, the County Commission will hold a public hearing to discuss the findings of Entranco, a Helena-based construction, planning and development company hired in the fall of 2001 to evaluate the condition of the county's bridges and to determine which need repair or replacement.
The meeting is set for 10 a.m. next Monday at the Hill County Courthouse.
The commissioners and county road supervisor Jerry Otto agree that 58-foot Wanke Bridge, located north of Rudyard and crossing Sage Creek, needs to be replaced, Commissioner Pat Conway said today.
"If people want to give their suggestions, we will listen. I don't think we've ever said the door's closed," Conway said. "But, between our road supervisor and the consideration of the commission, we felt this would be a strong contender for the first reconstruction."
Replacing Wanke Bridge is estimated to cost between $180,000 and $200,000. The money would come from the county and a matching grant from the Treasure State Endowment Program (TSEP), Conway said. The deadline to apply for the grant is May 3.
The evaluation of the bridges was funded by a $15,000 TSEP grant, which was matched by the county.
"(The bridges) were all evaluated and prioritized for eventual repair," Conway said. "But, as you can see, we're only picking one right now and it's pretty costly."
Wanke Bridge is the first priority based on categories like traffic, structural integrity and safety, Entranco vice president Dan McCauley said.
In its report, Entranco assigned a rating from high to low for 25 primary and 10 secondary county bridges, McCauley said. A score of 25 or more means a bridge needs the most work. Wanke Bridge totaled 28 points, with Big Sage, which also crosses Sage Creek, a close second with 27.
Other bridges with high ratings include Big Hook and Quarter Gulch on Beaver Creek Road, and Lineweaver, which crosses Sage Creek on Route 35. All three had a rating of 25.
Entranco inspected the structures based on Montana Department of Transportation guidelines, the report said. Bridge components like foundation, stringers and caps were weighted much heavier than routine maintenance items like guardrail repair and painting, McCauley said.
"I went out and looked at all the bridges. With all the safety issues, the importance of the road and how much traffic it gets, that's what bumped (Wanke Bridge) in there," McCauley said. "The idea is, let's take care of it."
Safety received the highest weight when classifying a bridge, McCauley added. Wanke Bridge had a safety rating of eight (on a 10-8-6-2-0 scale), meaning it has moderate structural deficiencies, cracked concrete and/or guardrail damage. No bridges received a safety rank of 10.
Wanke was also one of four bridges to score a traffic rating of five (on a 5-3-1 scale), meaning it receives the highest average daily traffic count of the surveyed bridges. Entranco suggests it be replaced with a 60-foot-long, 26-foot-wide structure.
"From our take of it, the evaluation that has already been done lists that bridge as the number one priority," Conway said. "Now, it all depends upon if we can get the funding."