Gallatin County has renewed discussions about replacing the 100-year-old Axtell Bridge and plans to seek public input on bridge design, possibly finding ways to preserve elements of the historic structure.

The one-lane truss bridge, located on Axtell Anceny Road south of Four Corners, is a safety hazard and a priority for replacement, said Tyler Steffan, a bridge engineer with the Montana Department of Transportation. If the bridge is not replaced, vehicles would likely have to take a detour of several miles to cross the Gallatin River.

The transportation department has three options for the replacement, which will take several years. The county hopes to get feedback at an open house in Gallatin Gateway this fall. Based on the feedback, the county commissioners and the department will decide what to do.

“Typically, we get a lot of strong opinions about keeping trusses in place, so public input is very important on the project,” Steffan said. “We have to figure out what are viable options and what the public thinks.”

In 2017, the Montana Department of Transportation developed the three replacement options, which ranged in cost from about $1 million to $2.15 million but will likely cost more by the time the bridge is built.

The most expensive option involves replacing the bridge with a two-lane structure and straightening Axtell Anceny Road near both ends of the bridge. Another, less expensive option is to replace the old bridge without straightening the curve.

The least expensive option would be to rehabilitate the existing bridge for continued use. That would likely have higher maintenance costs and a shorter life span than the other two options, Steffan said.

It’s unlikely the department of transportation would be able to incorporate elements of the existing bridge into a new structure or leave the existing bridge in place next to a new one, Steffan said. Instead, he suggested the county might be able to find money for preservation or people willing to relocate and repurpose the bridge.

The commissioners said they see complete replacement — the most expensive option — as the safest and best investment. However, they want to hear from the public before deciding how to proceed.

“There is going to be some confusion about why we’re talking about this five years out, but we want people to get involved up front,” Gallatin County Commissioner Scott MacFarlane said.

The county is now beginning the replacement of the similarly historic Nixon Bridge, which crosses the Gallatin River two miles north of Manhattan. Local residents tried to save the bridge by purchasing it with the intent of turning it into a pedestrian walkway over the river, but their efforts were unsuccessful.

Perrin Stein can be reached at 406-582-2648 or at pstein@dailychronicle.com. Follow her on Twitter @PerrinStein.

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