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How bridge inspectors in North Dakota keep travelers safe, connected

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 5:18 PM CDT
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NEW TOWN, N.D. – The Four Bears Bridge is a pivotal part of transportation across western North Dakota.

Keeping bridges like Four Bears safe and maintained is important work done by the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

Jake Mertz is a senior bridge inspector with the NDDOT. He and his team usually check about 25 bridges a week across the state, but this week they’ll spend the whole time looking over the Four Bears Bridge.

“Time, a lot of time and people. We’re checking the structure, the segments, for cracking, any spalling, anything that looks out of normal like it shouldn’t be there,” said Jake Mertz, senior bridge inspector.

The crew walks the length of the bridge inside looking for any issues that might require maintenance. Utilities are run through the bridge to connect the surrounding community.

“They’re a large investment and we’re trying to protect that investment, and also keeping it safe. It pays for us to keep up on it,” said Mertz.

They also check under the bridge using a truck they call the “snooper.”

One of the things they look at are the bearings at the top of the pillars that provide some flexibility for the structure.

“It’s a tie from one side of the lake to the other, and before the bridge was here, when it was a river, it was a much easier tie,” said Nancy Huether, bridge management engineer.

Four Bears is the longest in the state according to ND Tourism, and the design of the bridge is unique in North Dakota.

They expect to finish with Four Bears Bridge by the end of the week but say there’s a chance the work carries over to next week. Work can be delayed by high temperatures and strong wind.

The current Four Bears Bridge opened in 2005, after replacing the former one built in 1934.

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