ST. ANTHONY — Work on the Fun Farm Bridge has moved into the design stage.
Forsgren Associates has created a tentative design allowing for heavier vehicles, such as farm equipment, to cross the bridge. Currently, no trucks over nine feet can drive over the aging bridge that, by some estimates, may be as much as 100 years old.
Randy Johnson, of Forsgren Associates, and Fremont County Road and Bridges director Brandon Harris recently met with the Fremont County Commissioners to discuss work on the bridge.
The new design will replace the entire bridge, Harris said.
“It’s a complete reconstruct,” Harris said. “It needs an upgrade. It’s close to being condemned.”
The new structure will be minus the old iron beam structures on the side and at the top of the bridge. Plans also call to raise the bridge slightly to allow more space for boaters to cross beneath the structure.
“We’re concerned that we need to get the height for boaters to go underneath the bridge. We’re worried that there might not be enough clearance for boaters. We’re looking to raise the bridge up to accommodate them,” he said. “We’ve been told we need five to seven feet of clearance. We’re just waiting for verification to see if that’s enough.”
Harris didn’t know if removing the bridge’s side beams would prevent people from jumping off the structure once it’s completed.
“It will not be as high, but I still think people will go out there and jump,” he said.
It’s not illegal to jump off any Fremont County bridge. While it may prove an adrenalin rush, it’s not the wisest thing to do, said Fremont County Sheriff Len Humphries.
“You’re taking your chances. People do things all the time that aren’t safe,” he said.
Johnson presented a preliminary design of the new bridge during the commissioners’ meeting. He and Harris plan to present the proposal to the Local Highway Technical Assistance Council in the near future.
“We’ll go through some design questions. We’ll probably spend most of next year getting through the environmental stuff,” Johnson said.
Currently, construction on the bridge is scheduled to start in about four years, Harris said.
“By the time we do the environmental study and the design, we’re hoping by 2020 to have the bridge ready for bid and then go for construction in 2022,” he said.
Uncle Sam takes his time on such pricey projects, Harris said.
“That’s how all federal projects are,” he said.
Harris reported that the Federal Government has set aside $3 million for the Fun Farm Bridge project.
“With the increase in construction, they’re telling us that it could be upwards of $4.5 million by the time it’s constructed. It could be between $4.5 to $5 million depending on how construction goes,” Harris said.
The remaining funds would be paid for by state and local funds, he said.
“No matter what, the county will pay 7.34 percent of the cost,” Harris said.
The Fun Farm Bridge is old and decaying, according to Harris.
“It’s lived its life. It was not designed for the heavy loading vehicles we have today. With the new bridge, there will be no height restrictions. It will allow for all farm machinery — pretty much anything can go across it,” he said. “That will be nice and help a lot of the (farmers) out there.”
The county has shuttered the Fun Farm Bridge three times in the past decade. The most recent occurred in 2016. In that case, the state bridge inspector found a one-inch deep crack that was 1.75 inches tall in a tension member on the southwest corner of the bridge, wrote Amanda Beal in a 2016 Standard Journal article.
“The inspector also found the start of a crack in another tension member on the northeast corner of the bridge,” she reported.
The county previously closed the bridge in 2013 and 2010. During each closure, Fremont County Road and Bridge workers went in and temporarily fixed it here and there. Each attempt only provided a Band-Aid solution to the problem, Harris said.
“It’s getting worse every year,” he said.
The bridge is currently open, but only to small vehicles. It is located about three miles from St. Anthony. Thanks to the Fun Farm Bridge, residents living nearby have easy access to highway 20, he said.
“If the bridge is there, they can be right on highway 20. If not, they have another five-to-seven-mile detour they’ve got to go to,” Harris said.
The Fun Farm Bridge region proves a draw to locals who are often found fishing, swimming and boating there, he said.
“It’s really popular for fishing up there,” Harris said. “It’s just a beautiful spot.”
Harris and Johnson will hold a town hall meeting to discuss work on the Fun Farm Bridge before the end of the year.
“It’s to get residents’ input. They can come and give their input and get an update on where the project is going,” he said.
The men will follow up the town hall meeting with a formal public hearing next year.
For more information on Fun Farm Bridge work, call the county at 208-624-3261.