County still struggling with bridges

Alexis Barker

Alexis Barker

NLJ News Editor


Issues with bridges in the county continue to arise, according to Rick Williams, the Weston County Road and Bridge supervisor. Williams told the county commissioners on June 4 that another bridge in the county has sustained damage. 

During their May meetings, the commissioners discussed problems with the Black Thunder Bridge that was closed by the Wyoming Department of Transportation in early April due to safety issues. This bridge, located on the Cheyenne River Road, has been locked at both ends, with only landowners having access by key to cross the bridge if their load is not over 10,000 pounds, as instructed by WYDOT on April 9. 

On April 17, Williams switched bridge replacement priority to the Black Thunder Bridge, and on June 4, he and engineer Jerry Hunt, of Weston Engineering, presented preliminary estimates for bridge replacement. 

According to Hunt, the cost of bridge replacement with the temporary bypass will be about $1.1 million for a two-lane Big R Bridge. Costs for a BROS (bridge replacement “Off System” through WYDOT) bridge would run between $1.8 million and $2 million, according to Williams

Hunt said that a resolution requesting grant funding from the state on an emergency basis had been prepared for the commission’s approval. 

“The gal I talked to in Cheyenne thought there was a good shot that we could get some funding,” Hunt said. “The biggest thing is to decide what we are going to ask for in grant/loan matches.” 

The county has a better chance, he said, if it asks for a lower grant amount, but it all comes down to how much money the state has to give. 

Commissioner Marty Ertman said that she is not sure what a contingency plan would be for the county as far as bridge replacement goes. 

“If SLIB (State Loan and Investment Board) doesn’t come through, I am not sure if we have enough once we get done with mitigation and gravel,” Ertman said. “If we are going to do the Old Highway 85 bridge, it has been on the list forever and that is going to be a million dollar match. It is a big bridge.” 

In the interim, Hunt said, the county could ask for a loan for its portion of the bridge cost. He said that while he hopes for a bridge cost between $800,000 and $900,000, he bumped the request up to $1.1 million because of contingency funds. 

Williams explained that a single-lane bridge would take roughly four weeks to be ready, while a two-lane will take about eight weeks. 

“They have to send the plans to us and we have to okay them, and Jerry has to put his stamp on them. That will take about two weeks. I figure eight weeks after that to get our paper back,” Williams said. 

According to Williams, a detour is going to be necessary while the bridge is under construction. He estimated that, with materials, the project will cost $52,000 and $100,000, depending on the contractor. 

He noted that the $1.1 million includes the cost of the detour. 

“What if we went and asked for an 80-20 match and whoever goes down (to Cheyenne to meet with SLIB) is prepared to go 50-50?” Chairman Tony Barton asked. 

Ertman said that she is unsure whether the county can change its request from a two-lane to one-lane and that the county will have to ask for a specific amount. 

She said that the county will have to take it can get. The county has a large portion of its road funds encumbered and that one more bridge issue may deplete the account. 

“I have to favor a double lane. Whatever we do, it seems to me that down that road we are going to have problems with a single lane,” Commissioner Tracy Hunt said. 

Alan Slagle, a landowner, asked how big a double-lane bridge. He said that the current 20-foot bridge allows for two vehicles to cross at the same time, although he said it is not the “safest.” 

Williams explained that a single-lane is 20 feet wide and a double-lane is 28 feet wide. 

 Tracy Hunt asked whether the landowners are “okay with waiting for a bridge.”

“I don’t understand the concern with a one-lane bridge if you can pass two people. It has been one-way for 60 years,” Slagle said. “If the issue is money, get the 20-foot one-way and we can get in there.” 

Slagle said that no one ever crosses the bridge two vehicles at a time. 

“I think the issue is safety. The world has changed, and we don’t get to make decisions,” Ertman said. “It is not always our decision.”

Ertman told Slagle that he would have to ask the state engineer why the two-lane might be preferable. 

“I don’t understand the issue with why a one-lane bridge is not safe,” Slagle said. “There are dozens in the county.” 

Commissioner Hunt questioned if there was any reason to believe the state would not approve a single-lane road when it is four-fifths the width of the two-lane. 

“What they are going to look at is the vehicles uses per day and the type,” Jerry Hunt said. “I am not saying they wouldn’t approve it.” 

Williams noted that the state will have to sign off on whatever the county decides, even if the county does not use state funds, because the bridge is over 20 feet long. 

Slagle questioned what the WYDOT would do if the county were to install a bridge that the state agency did not approve of. 

“What is the DOT going to do if we put in a bridge that will carry the loads we need that meets our needs? If we put it in and DOT says they don’t approve, are they going to tear it down?” Slagle asked. 

“They condemned the one we have now. If we wouldn’t have put gates up, you could still haul over it,” Slagle said. “It may fall on us.” 

“That is my question. Can’t we just do something so we can get in and out for the least amount of money? I mean, if it is a good bridge and 20-feet wide, it is what most county roads are out there anyways,” Slagle said. “I guess that is my thoughts.” 

“We feel the exact same way. We don’t get to do that. There are other things above us, and bridges are one of them,” Ertman said. 

Ertman and Barton suggested that the county table the discussion to allow time for further investigation, but Jerry Hunt urged them to make a decision because the resolution was due in a week.

The commissioners approved the resolution requesting an 80-20 grant-match.

“Getting back to the band-aid from now until the bridge is built,” Commissioner Hunt said. “I like to feel we are comfortable and have a plan. If the issue is an emergency situation, then we can go across the dam or some other way. I think we need to have a contingency plan for what we do between now and when the bridge is built.” 

Slagle said that it does not matter if the county uses culverts or a dam because if the creek is up, there is no crossing. 

Ertman said that she thinks the county has to have the detour and Hunt acknowledged that Slagle’s suggestion was viable. 

According to Williams, a bridge on Buffalo Creek has collapsed. He recommended that the county use two culverts to replace the bridge. He noted that there is a detour around that bridge. 

“It can be set up to where you can keep it high enough that any excess flow can be diverted to the west and let across the road,” Jerry Hunt said about the Buffalo Creek bridge. 

Hunt estimated that the county is looking at between $140,000 and $150,000 for the Buffalo Creek project. 

“It depends on how aggressive the contractors are. When we did the Wild Cat project ,we had all kinds of people bid and got good numbers,” Hunt said. “That can change pretty fast.” 

Williams said that Buffalo Creek could be done over the winter months. 

But Commissioner Hunt said he thought it just needed to be fixed. 

The commissioners then agreed to pay for the project from the $500,000 the county approved for flooding problems, noting that this is what those funds are to be used for. The commissioners voted to let bids for the repair of the Buffalo Creek crossing.


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