Old Truss Bridge Meridian Bridge

The Jefferson River flows under the Meridian Bridge near Willow Creek.

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THREE FORKS — Plans to replace a one-lane truss bridge over the Jefferson River near Willow Creek are moving forward.

Gallatin County commissioners met this week with local landowners and Stahly Engineering, the firm overseeing the project, to review preliminary designs for the new Meridian Bridge.

The new concrete bulb-tee beam bridge will replace a bridge that is more than 100 years old and that can’t accommodate large farm equipment, school buses or many emergency vehicles.

The new bridge will look different from the existing bridge but will have generally the same alignment so as not to alter the flow of the river, said Greg Benjamin, with Stahly Engineering.

The bridge replacement project will also include straightening a hairpin turn that leads to the bridge to accommodate larger trucks. Widening the turn could require the county to obtain easements from adjacent landowners, Benjamin said.

The road on both sides of the bridge will have guardrails to prevent parking, which some landowners have said they were worried would increase as the area is becoming more and more popular for fishing.

Construction of the new bridge will likely begin in July and take about five months to complete.

People won’t be able to use the bridge during construction, so they will have to take an eight-mile detour to cross the river.

The bridge replacement will likely cost about $1.5 million, said Jamie Grabinski, Gallatin County grants coordinator. About half the money — $750,000 — is coming from the Treasure State Endowment Program, which provides state money to counties for large infrastructure projects.

Three counties will split the other half because the bridge spans Gallatin and Jefferson counties and is also used by Broadwater County residents.

Dismantling the 106-year-old bridge will require some special steps.

Gallatin, Jefferson and Gallatin counties will need a plan for preserving the existing bridge before construction can begin.

Preservation could include moving the bridge to a new site for pedestrian use, documenting the bridge through photographs and giving them to area museums or installing signs near the new bridge with information about the old structure, said Kathy Thompson, with Stahly Engineering.

The historic preservation component of bridge replacement has been a sticking point for Gallatin County in the past.

The replacement of the Nixon Bridge near Manhattan, which will officially finish on Monday, was delayed for about a year in part because historic preservation groups were working to save the one-lane, steel-truss bridge, which was built in 1891.

The groups were ultimately unsuccessful. Instead, the history of the bridge is being preserved through a plaque, photographs and placement in a national historic engineering registry.

Gallatin County commissioners and Stahly Engineers said they are open to any ideas about preserving the Meridian Bridge and don’t necessarily want to do what is being done for the Nixon Bridge.

“We want to hear from anyone who’s interested,” said Commissioner Joe Skinner. “Some people will likely be against what we do, but we do want to come up with the best solution we can.”

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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