Plan to save Clark Fork bridges sinks
By: KEITH KINNAIRD
Maintenance costs, liability will force removal
SANDPOINT — Plans to save two bridges spanning the Clark Fork River are being scrapped.
Bonner County commissioners decided unanimously on Thursday have the abandoned bridge and the current vehicle bridge at Clark Fork removed because of maintenance costs and concern over their lead-based paint coatings. Construction of a new bridge is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2001.
Larry Evans, the Forsgren Associates engineer managing the bridge replacement project, presented commissioners with five alternatives for dealing with the bridges:
• Replace the timber decking on the current vehicle bridge and remove the abandoned one. The estimated cost of this alternative is $11.8 million.
• Remove both bridges and install a bike/pedestrian path on the new two-lane bridge at an estimated cost of $10.5 million.
• Rehabilitate and repaint the current bridge, and close the abandoned bridge. The estimated cost of this option is $11.4 million.
• Rehabilitate and repaint the current bridge, and then repaint and close the abandoned bridge. This alternative has an estimated cost of $13.9 million.
• Install a bike path on the new bridge and close the other two bridges. This option has a estimated cost of $9.6 million.
Last May, county officials decided to save the abandoned 80-year-old truss bridge and the 100-year-old railroad bridge that now carries traffic over the river. The newer bridge was closed in 1992 because of its dilapidated condition and traffic was routed onto the converted railroad bridge.
The main reasons for keeping the bridges was because no state or federal agencies called for their removal. In addition, the State Historical Preservation Office and some Clark Fork residents wanted the bridges to remain in the town's skyline.
But the costs associated with keeping the bridges in place may overshadow nostalgic sentiments. Evans said the bridges' lead-based paint would have to be sand-blasted off so they could be repainted. That would cost about $2.4 million per bridge, he told commissioners.
Hope resident Jerry Clemons asked Evans why the lead-based paint couldn't be "encapsulated" with another coating.
"They're in poor enough of a condition that we can't do that right now. Any encapsulation is likely to fall off," said Evans.
Commissioner Brian Orr said trying to encapsulate the lead-based paint at this point would be "like trying to paint a dirty wall."
Each of the alternatives had their advantages and drawbacks, although the alternative involving the removal of both bridges was the most palatable to commissioners. Keeping the bridges would saddle the county with long-term maintenance costs and ongoing liability, Commission Chairman Dale Van Stone said.
Though Commissioner Mueller opposes the addition of a bike path because there are no paths that would tie into it, he moved to select the bridge removal option. Orr seconded the motion.
The option commissioners selected does the most to address safety, environmental and cost concerns, but it poses a threat to the project's funding, according to Evans.
"There's going to be significant opposition from historic agencies," said Evans, adding that the opposition could give the Federal Highway Administration cold feet when it comes time to fund the construction.
The federal government recently approved $1.5 million for the project to pay for soil studies and right of way acquisition.
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