Bridging to the future: The plan to save Bismarck’s iconic rail bridge

Local News

The future of the iconic rail bridge between Bismarck and Mandan is up for discussion. If you live in North Dakota, you may have walked under this structure or even taken photos of it.

However, BNSF Rail company is planning to stop using it in the near future. The question remains: is the bridge’s historical significance and beauty worth the cost of saving it from demolition?

The BNSF Bismarck Bridge was constructed with similar methods in the same era as the Brooklyn Bridge. It is an iconic landmark that predates official North Dakota statehood by six years.

Ann Richardson, a board member of FORB says, “The bridge is the same age as the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. It is older than the Eifel Tower in Paris. These two I call out specifically because they are icons of their own communities. We don’t have millions of people who live here in Bismarck North Dakota. But our historical iconic structures are just as historically important and should be preserved.”

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, or BNS, proposed to build a new bridge in 2017. Friends of the Rail Bridge began as an attempt to keep history alive and have faced many obstacles.

Mark Zimmerman, another Board Member of FORB says, “You know sometimes it’s very complex. All the issues dealing with flood mitigation, and historic aspects to it and the cultural aspects of it. But again, there’s a definitive federal permitting process laid out, and our group and other groups have been joined in that process and that’s how we’re moving forward.”

The rail bridge itself has been around since 1883 and recently, Friends of the Rail Bridge signed an agreement with the Coast Guard to determine a course of action that would make the bridge
a part of the community in a new way.

Zimmerman says, ” We would look at trails that would connect from the Bismarck side as well as the Morton County side to get folks up to the bridge. It could be a pedestrian/bicycle bridge. But more than recreation, we hope that the bridge would stand as a symbol of the cultural aspects of our community.”

Richardson adds, “We are excited, we are energized. We are hopeful about being able to keep this beautiful iconic structure preserved for the generations to come.”

Friends of the Rail Bridge say they have 45 days to come up with community partners as well as create a Bridge Advisory Committee, that advises BNSF on aesthetics and how it fits with the landscape.

For more information on friends of the rail bridge or how you can partner with them click here.

The preservation group has met with at least 46 consulting groups to brainstorm ideas, but ultimately, the final decision rests on the Coast Guard. And so far, no date has been set on that decision or when a new bridge will be built.

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