MDT director responds to letters received on proposed bridgework

 By Kay Braddock

        Nearly 20 comments later, including three phone calls from state representatives, Montana Department of Transportation Director Jim Lynch confirmed last week that the proposed bridgework north of Terry may not require road closure.

“We’ve built a lot of bridges in the state where we haven’t had to close it to traffic,” Lynch said. 
While MDT considers construction impacts to the community and the project, officials are heavily weighing the concerns brought up by community members and organizations.
“Obviously, closure doesn’t seem to be a possibility and probably doesn’t make very good sense based on what I’ve been hearing,” Lynch said. 
The Prairie County Board of Commission and the Town of Terry were among those who mailed letters to the department. 
One question raised in the commissioners’ letter to MDT included use of existing material located on the north side of the old bridge to construct a detour route, allowing one lane traffic to continue during construction.
“We question the proposed schedule of 30 to 60 days to complete the repair to the bridge,” the letter goes on to state.
In the letter from the Town of Terry, Mayor Ron Kiosse expressed appreciation to the department for “looking to repair” the bridge.
“If however, there are ways to keep the bridge passable during the time of repair, we hope that you would take those alternatives into consideration,” the letter concludes.
Concerns raised about emergency response services for Prairie County residents living north of the bridge are a top priority, according to Lynch and will be a “driving” force behind decisions being made on the project.
Prairie County Department of Emergency Services Director John Pisk has not contacted MDT but did call on McCone County officials when the proposed project was first announced.
“We’ll just have a face-to-face meeting before it’s closed, if it does get closed,” Pisk said, noting under the mutual aid agreement McCone County officials are more than willing to step in to provide services if needed. Pisk believes need for fire and law enforcement services could also likely be provided by McCone County if the highway is closed.
“It’s pretty well covered,” Pisk said.
MDT is considering all options, including temporary structures for the traffic to cross the Yellowstone River as well as establishing existing detours. Specifics on either option were not given. 
After reviewing comments and project details, MDT will hold another public meeting to address viable options.
Meeting’s message clarified
During a January community meeting in Terry, MDT officials explained how and why the bridgework was being considered. The project, set to begin in 2012 along Secondary Highway 253, will include replacing unstable ground and extending the bridge another 60 feet on the south end approach. 
Several Terry residents left the over hour-long meeting under the impression that road closure was the only option MDT was considering.
Lynch said that impression was unintended. 
“The purpose of the meeting was to inform the public of what we’ve got going in the project and listen to what their concerns are,” Lynch said. 
Six response forms handed out at the meeting were submitted to department officials. Another six letters were received, along with five emails. 
Lynch also took calls from state Senator Keith Bales and state Representatives Dave Kasten and Lee Randal.
“They wanted to know what was happening,” Lynch said. “They had constituents that called them.”
State and federal funds will be used on the project, which could cost up to $3 million.  
Lynch disputed critics’ claim that road construction projects are rarely under budget and on time. He pointed to several projects throughout the state including the 2005 Beartooth Highway project, which was completed “in less than four months and several million dollars under budget.”
        “It’s unfortunate that everything is focusing on closure,” Lynch said. “Cost is one element in a project as we move forward. But on the same token you can’t isolate a community either.”

Published March 10, 2010

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