Bridge dispute still a hot topic

Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 5:18 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2023 at 9:44 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - The fight over preserving or demolishing the historic rail bridge continued today as the Department of Water Resources held a public meeting regarding a Sovereign Land Permit Application made by BNSF. The application would give BNSF the go ahead to tear down the structure and build a new one.

The rail bridge overlooks a cold and frozen river right now, but the discussion about the structure is still heating up. On Friday, a Sovereign Land Permit Application was discussed on whether or not BNSF can build a new bridge. This comes a month after the bridge advocacy group, FORB, failed to stop the rail company from gaining a clean water permit.

“Needless this historic bridge stands as a tribute to time and technology. And is a rock-solid monument to this state, region and nation’s history,” said Claudia Berg FORB.

FORB says the issue of the bridge is more complex than just destroying a landmark. A dual track system though Bismarck is part of the new bridge design. But opponents of the new bridge say a two-track system would destroy downtown areas. New crossings would have to be put in place. The expense for the new structures they say would come out of taxpayers’ pockets.

“A shoofly would have to be installed at every location, meaning the dissemination of downtown Bismarck and the private property that is currently there,” said Dawn Kopp Bismarck Downtowners Association.

However, BNSF says there will not be a two-track system right away on the new bridge. They are building piers which would be able to hold the capacity for two tracks if needed in the future, and they would require more permits and public notice begin expansion of existing right-of-way.

“That means the impact to the environment and to the wildlife is reduced, because we don’t have to go back into the river a second time to build piers,” said Amy McBeth of BNSF.

Both groups argued about economic impacts. FORB says a walking bridge would bring more tourism dollars to the state and cited the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis as an example.

BNSF says the current structure has too many load restrictions due to age. and they claim the bridge in Minneapolis was only possible because it was on an abandoned rail line, while Bismarck’s is currently active.

“This impacts not only what we can ship, but for whom we can ship. So, while you may see rail cars going across the bridge today what you are not seeing is the many rail cars we have had to reroute or not ship because of restrictions,” said Laura Mona of BNSF.

The Department of Water Resources will take the comments under consideration. They may decide to grant the permit to BNSF, deny it, or grant it with changes.

If built, the new bridge is estimated to cost 60 million dollars.