Fate of historic rail bridge in N.D. mostly depends on actions of preservation group

Written by Bill Wilson, Editor-in-Chief
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BNSF’s patience regarding the Bismark-Mandan bridge preservation efforts is running thin.
Bruce Kelly

Everyone had a say, everyone was heard, and now it appears the U.S. Coast Guard is making sure every step is checked.

The future of the Bismarck-Mandan Rail Bridge, a 138-year-old span that crosses the Missouri River and connects Bismarck, N.D., with Mandan, N.D., is clearer now that the Coast Guard, BNSF Railway and the Friends of the Rail Bridge have come to an agreement. BNSF wants to demolish the existing bridge and build a new on in its place, but the Friends of the Rail Bridge wants the original rail bridge to be preserved. The National Trust for Historic Preservation named the bridge as one of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.”

Friends of the Rail Bridge wants the historic bridge to be used as a walking/bike path. The Coast Guard has final say in matters regarding any crossings over bodies of water, and the agreement that has been worked out could allow the existing bridge to stay in place and a new one constructed. However, certain steps have to be executed for the old bridge to avoid demolition.

A first draft of a memorandum of agreement is due in mid-February. It will outline specific details, but Friends of the Rail Bridge will have to nail some things down in the meantime. The group has 45 days from Jan. 15 to create a public-private partnership for the existing bridge project. Friends of the Rail Bridge President Mark Zimmerman says that deadline is “certainly doable.” A bridge advisory committee also needs to be created by Friends of the Rail Bridge. This committee would provide input on the aesthetics of the new bridge to make sure it blends in with the existing structure as well as the landscape surrounding it.

If the historic bridge is preserved and a new one constructed it could raise the flood plain in the area, and Friends of the Rail Bridge needs to make sure the new bridge does not raise the flood plain, or make other adjustments so it does not happen.

BNSF is working on its requirements, which includes creating engineering drawings for the new bridge and sending them to the bridge advisory committee.

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