A bridge too far


A bridge too far

Dear Editor:

I would like to add a couple of facts to the information about the Black Thunder Bridge that people might not be aware of (Wrestling with Bridge Problems, NLJ May 22).

First, although opening locked gates on both sides of the bridge is a nuisance to those of us who live south of Black Thunder, that is a minor consideration. The major problem is that there are a couple of dozen people — and thousands of acres of land — south of the bridge which are now cut off from emergency assistance.

Weston County has had an unusual winter/spring, with lots of flooding and major road damage and I do not want to devalue the expenses and work our county is looking at to complete repairs on other roads, bridges, etc. However, this extreme influx of moisture means that we will most likely have knee deep grass within a month. That is terrific … for now. By mid-summer, our fire danger will also be extreme.

Having no access via the Bruce/Cheyenne River Road to the people and land south of Black Thunder puts us all at severe risk.

Virtually all of the fire equipment and most ambulances are heavier than the five ton limit currently imposed on the Black Thunder Bridge.

Second, the bridge at Black Thunder has essentially been a one lane bridge for its entire existence (in the neighborhood of sixty years). All traffic, whether ranchers, oil field personnel or tourists, has always stopped when they see an approaching vehicle to allow travelers to cross one at a time.

There’s a clear view of oncoming traffic from both directions — as opposed to what is commonly called the “Ridge Road” (Cheyenne River/Dull Center). There are numerous blind corners and various spots where two-lane traffic is impossible on this road and there have been several near-misses already this spring due to increased oil field traffic.

On this same subject, the oil field activity has been hindered, if not stopped completely by the necessity for detouring down the Lynch Road to get to facilities south of Black Thunder. One company has already opted to forego new operations, in part because of the difficulties with routes to the area.

Also, it appears that it might be possible to order and complete the one lane bridge from Big R Construction by summer’s end, thus saving us from possible disaster much earlier than the suggested alternatives.

And, lastly, a low-water crossing or culverts is a temporary fix. The low-water crossing/by-pass on the bridge just off highway 450 on the Lynch Road was washed out when the Black Thunder Bridge was first condemned; the Dull Center Road to Douglas was impassible at that time. Thus, every soul living in this area was essentially cut off from help and commerce was at a complete standstill.

Two years ago, the County put in a detour at Wildcat while they replaced that bridge with culverts. Thus far, those culverts have withstood the onslaught of heavier than normal moisture this winter and spring – but Wildcat is not Black Thunder. The drainage patterns are completely different and this type of repair is not going to be feasible at Black Thunder.

At the time that detour was in place, we had scheduled to ship cattle but were prevented from doing so because the detour was not adequate for semi traffic. So, if the bridge repairs are not undertaken before Fall, it could be impossible to get feed and supplies in or cattle out. 

In summary, when there is a fire here, south of Black Thunder, this summer, we are going to be without assistance. The low water crossing is not a viable alternative to a bridge. Waiting for three or four or five years to get approval or assistance is not reasonable. As Commissioner Todd said, we need this issue “taken care of sooner rather than later.

In closing, I would like to commend our County Road and Bridge Department, Rick Williams and all of the county employees for their diligent efforts to repair and maintain the roads that have been so devastated by the past few months’ bizarre weather.

— Nicky Groenewold

News Letter Journal

News Letter Journal
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