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County considers bridge restructure: South Mitchell route has large impact on ag
June 05, 2014 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
After considering their options, Scotts Bluff County Commissioners learned it might be more cost effective to replace the South Mitchell bridge than to rehab the structure.

Mark Traynowicz, Nebraska Department of Roads Bridge Engineer, told the board it would cost about $1.7 million to rehab the aging bridge. Building a new structure next to the current one would only be slightly more expensive, at $2.33 million.

Under an agreement from 1986, the state would rehab the bridge and then relinquish it to the county, who would then be responsible for maintaining the structure. The rehab hasn’t been done yet, as the structure is still sound.

“The condition hasn’t changed much over the last 20 or 30 years,” Traynowicz said. “It’s a good, solid old bridge. After we did a study, we found it would cost a lot to rehab, but just a little more to replace it.”

The current South Mitchell bridge is 670 feet long, which would be replaced with a 400 foot structure. Still to be determined is whether the bridge will be built by the state or the county.

Traynowicz said the state would prefer it if the county builds the new bridge. If the county takes on the job, the state would pay for it with state roads funds. If the state built the structure, they would use federal funds, which would take more time to secure.

Several county commissioners expressed their reluctance to take on the responsibility for another bridge, especially at a time when the county roads budget is very tight.

During the design phase of the project, it will be determined whether the bridge will be built under traffic of if it will be necessary to close the road during construction. Both Commissioner Steve Stratton and Mitchell farmer Bob Busch said that closing the road for close to a year would have a large negative impact on the ag community in that area.

Commissioners Stratton and Mike Marker, along with Department of Roads District V Engineer Craig Lind and County Roads Superintendent Bob Bennett will meet next week to discuss whether the county or the state should build the bridge. They will make a report at the next commissioners meeting on June 16.

During their Monday meeting, commissioners also heard from Brenda Leisy, director of the Scotts Bluff Area Visitors Bureau. She asked the board to join our Congressional delegation in a letter asking the Federal Highway Administration to abide by its original agreement. It involves a $1 million grant to help expand the biking/hiking trail along Old Oregon Trail from West Lawn Cemetery in Gering west past Scotts Bluff National Monument.

“Under the original grant, our in-kind match, along with a cash contribution, was in place,” Leisy said. “A year later, the Highway Administration changed the rules and said we needed to have all our funding in cash. Twenty percent of a million dollars is a lot to come up with. Nowhere in the original grant does it say the rules would be changed.”

Leisy told the board the letter was needed to buy some time, so the local area wouldn’t lose the grant before the problem could be worked out.
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