Old Truss Bridge Meridian Bridge

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

A two-lane bridge will soon replace the one-lane truss bridge that spans the Jefferson River near Willow Creek.

This week, Gov. Steve Bullock signed off on $750,000 for the $1.3 million Meridian Bridge replacement through the Treasure State Endowment Program, which gives state money to counties for infrastructure projects and which the Legislature has funded with $12.7 million for 47 projects across the state.

The Meridian Bridge spans Jefferson and Gallatin counties and is also used by Broadwater County residents, so all three local governments are collaborating with the state on the project. Gallatin will pitch in $460,000, Jefferson has pledged $345,000 and Broadwater is giving $116,000.

The new concrete bulb-tee beam bridge will replace a bridge that is more than 100 years old and that can’t hold large farm equipment, many emergency response vehicles or school buses. The only alternate route requires about an eight-mile detour. About 130 vehicles cross the bridge each day, and as the populations of Gallatin, Jefferson and Broadwater counties increase, the bridge likely will see more traffic.

“It’s sad to get rid of these old truss bridges, but it’s necessary,” said Gallatin County Commissioner Joe Skinner.

The state funding for the Meridian Bridge replacement is among $400 million in funding for infrastructure projects that Bullock has signed into law since the end of the legislative session.

“It’s a lot, but it’s not enough because there is a huge need in the state,” said Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney. “There are many small towns that can’t fund these projects themselves, but they still need them to meet their communities’ needs and federal and state regulations. We have to find a way to help them out.”

Cooney added that he hopes to develop a comprehensive plan for infrastructure funding before the next legislative session, which is something some state lawmakers also are working toward.

Gallatin County has more than 100 bridges, and the commissioners have said they are always looking for outside funding sources to help them budget for their replacements and to save money.

Without state funding for the Meridian Bridge replacement, commissioner Don Seifert said the county would have had to save up revenue from its road and bridge tax or set aside money from its general fund.

“This program has really been great for us,” he said.

The county is now beginning work on the replacement of Nixon Bridge, which received $684,000 in state dollars through the Treasure State Endowment Program during the 2017 legislative session. The bridge, which crosses the Gallatin River two miles north of Manhattan and connects to Gallatin River Ranch, will also be paid for with $336,000 in county funds and about $400,000 in taxes from area property owners.

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

Perrin Stein is the county, state and federal government reporter for the Chronicle.

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