Char-Koosta News

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South Valley Creek bridge construction project nearing completion

By B.L. Azure

ARLEE — The new South Valley Creek bridge could be opened for traffic by mid-October if all goes as well on the project as heretofore. The project a few miles northwest of Arlee that began in late July has a planned November 1 completion date. This week Frontier West construction crews were preparing decking for the bridge deck cement pour.

Mike Brown, director of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Roads and the Safety of Dams programs, said the project is running on schedule and is well within the budget parameters.

“So far this project is going just as planned,” Brown said. “The weather has been great this summer and there has been no unexpected hang-ups. It’s been a real good project.”

On Tuesday work crews for the Missoula-based company that specializes in highway bridge construction were setting up forms and tying rebar on the 161-feet, 5-inch long by 30-feet, 6-inch wide bridge deck that spans the Jocko River on the South Valley Creek Road.

The cement pour for the deck slab is scheduled for Friday if all goes well or Monday if there is an unforeseen hitch in the giddy-up, which can happen in construction projects. After the pour, the cement will have to set for at least two weeks so it can cure properly. During that two-week span work will focus on completion of the roadway approaches.

The $1 million bridge construction and related work is funded by a Bureau of Indian Affairs Roads Program grant under its High Priority Project line item. Brown said that Indian tribes could apply for a HPP grant that is capped at $1 million to fund high priority road related projects on Indian reservations.

“We saw this as a high priority project,” Brown said, adding that all the bids received were well within the allocated fund parameters. He also said that this fiscal year was the last for the HPP program within the BIA. “The High Priority Projects funds will go into the regular BIA project funding line as a result of the new federal highway bill.”

More than $800,000 of the grant was awarded to Frontier West for the bridge construction. “Bridge building is their specialty,” Brown said. “They put together a real good team of bridge builders and all has worked out well.”

The remaining funds have been used to reestablish the flood plain to its pre-existing natural width that was constricted by the former steel girder one lane bridge. The abutments for that bridge were actually located in the natural stream flow channel. During high spring runoff years, that constriction backed up water flows that flooded upstream land beyond the natural flood plain. That was exacerbated when debris clogged up the narrow channel.

The remaining funds will also be used to reestablish the natural vegetation of the flood plain and reclaim land that was disturbed by the project. It will also be used to complete and pave the bridge roadway approaches.

South Valley Creek Road is a Lake County road right-of-way on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The Tribes and Lake County Board of Commissioners worked together to resolve the weight-load restricted steel girder bridge.

“The old bridge couldn’t handle large vehicles,” Brown said.

A few years back Montana Department of Transportation inspectors deemed the bridge unsafe and ordered it closed to traffic. Lake County did repair work on it to bring it up to a 3-ton weight limit, which is basically the weight of cars and pick-up trucks. However larger vehicles like fire trucks, ambulances and school buses couldn’t use the bridge due to their more than 3-ton weight. More county work was done to it to bring it up to an 8-ton weight limit that could handle some larger vehicle traffic but still not school buses and fire engines.

The weight restrictions posed the obvious problem of more time and miles added to response time of emergency personnel. However the cooperative work between the CSKT and Lake County resolved the situation. The Tribes came up with the funding for the bridge on Lake County right-of-way and oversaw the construction project. When the project is finished Lake County will assume ownership and maintenance of the bridge that is in the same basic footprint of the old bridge. It is just jigged a bit and is wider so it has a larger footprint.

“Lake County had a vested interest in improving the bridge and so did the Tribes. The South Valley Creek bridge is a perfect example of how two governments can work together in a cost- and responsibility-sharing project for the benefit of people — non-Indian and Indian — in that area. The fisheries also benefited from the project,” Brown said. “We built the bridge wide enough to handle two-way traffic and long enough to span the flood plain which will help reestablish a healthier fishery. When it is completed the people in the area will not have to drive the extra miles to access Highway 93. When it comes to emergency responders time is of the essence and now they will not have to drive the extra miles that adds to response time.”

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