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Work begins on new U.S. 2 bridge

Construction began this week on a permanent replacement for the Milk River Bridge between Havre and Chinook on U.S. Highway 2, which collapsed during a traffic accident last year.

On Tuesday, construction crews from Riverside Contracting Inc. of Missoula began building a new bridge about 60 feet south of where the original structure collapsed. The project - with a price tag of $2.3 million - includes building a bridge twice as wide as the previous one and a half-mile approach of highway on either side of the bridge. The contract also includes tearing down the temporary bridge that was built on the same site as the one that collapsed, and removing sections of highway that will not be used once the new bridge opens.

"When Riverside is done, you won't know that there was ever a road over there," Montana Department of Transportation district administrator Mick Johnson said this morning.

Traffic will be using the new bridge by summer, Johnson said.

"It's a remarkable project - the fastest I've seen anything turn, ever. A lot of people came to the plate for this one," he said. "It just demonstrates what the state of Montana can do. It's just a really remarkable job."

The old Milk River Bridge collapsed Nov. 18, and within three weeks Tamietti Construction of Great Falls had built a temporary structure in its place. The temporary bridge allowed most traffic to resume travel on Highway 2 and avoid using a lengthy detour along a series of dirt and gravel roads. Oversize and overweight traffic is still required to use a detour that takes it south to Lewistown.

"Our goal on this whole thing was to get the road open and keep the road open, and now it's to get people off that detour. This is an important road for us," Johnson said.

Shortly after Tamietti Construction finished the temporary bridge, MDT awarded Morrison-Maierle Inc. of Helena a contract to design a permanent replacement, Johnson said. Morrison-Maierle was paid just over $200,000, and submitted the design within a month, he added.

Then MDT solicited bids for the actual construction of the bridge. The bid was based on two elements, Johnson said - cost and time. Riverside's bid had the second- lowest cost and the fastest time and it was awarded the contract, he said.

The company says it will complete the 55-foot-wide, 280-foot-long structure by the end of June, according to a press release from MDT spokeswoman Lisa VanderHeiden.

Johnson said he believes that construction could be finished before that.

"Our goal is to try to get the project done as quickly as is possible, and it gives the contractor an incentive to double-shift and work overtime to get this thing done," he said.

Although high water or heavy ice flow in the Milk River could slow down construction, Johnson said, he still expects the bridge to be finished quickly. Riverside began moving equipment to the construction site Monday, began drilling Tuesday, and could be pouring concrete by as early as this afternoon, he said.

The Milk River Bridge collapsed about 6:44 a.m. Nov. 18 when a bulldozer being hauled on the trailer of an eastbound truck clipped a bridge pylon and twisted clockwise on the trailer, the Montana Highway Patrol said. A ripper unit mounted on the back of the dozer tore into the rear portion of an empty grain trailer of a westbound truck and destroyed a second, smaller pup trailer, the patrol said. Then the dozer blade severed a support beam on the southwest corner of the bridge, causing the bridge to collapse, according to the patrol.

Neither Dave Williams, 59, of Havre, who was hauling the dozer, nor the other driver - Michael Shroyer, 46, of Billings - was injured.

According to the Highway Patrol report, Williams' truck was not equipped with warning lights or accompanied by flag vehicles, as required by law for wide-load cargo. The report also said the load should only have been transported during daylight hours.

The results of the crash investigation were forwarded to the Blaine County Attorney's Office for review. No charges have been filed.


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