BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — It was the first bridge built across the Missouri River at Bismarck-Mandan in the early 1880s and, for over a century, has stood as a fixed landmark in an area that has constantly grown and changed.
But time, rust and decay have caught up with the bridge, and it will soon be replaced with a new, bigger span capable of handling the modern loads and speeds of the railroad.
The United States Coast Guard – District Eight has completed its “Final Environmental Impact Statement” for the BNSF Railway Bridge Project. In a report that was formally published October 28 on the Federal Register, the coast guard concludes there are no real, viable, cost-effective alternatives to tearing down the old structure and replacing it with a new one.
The report considered proposed options such as keeping and refurbishing the old bridge in place and building a new bridge nearby or moving the old bridge to a new location and repurposing it as a walking path.
Friends Of the Railway Bridge, a Bismarck area group that wanted to keep the old structure preserved and converted into a walking bridge, pushed a flurry of legal challenges and proposals during the process to issue BNSF a permit for the new bridge construction.
One challenge, in particular, argued that BNSF didn’t own the bridge and that ownership automatically transferred to North Dakota when it became a state in 1889.
BNSF presented documents showing it did, in fact, own the bridge and that there was nothing in the law backing up the idea that the bridge reverted to state ownership with the creation of North Dakota.
Several requests for an opinion from North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley on ownership of the bridge were rebuffed with the argument that it was a matter between the U.S. Coast Guard, BNSF and Friends of the Railway Bridge.
Now that the Final Environmental Impact Statement has been published, the Coast Guard intends to issue a Record of Decision on November 28, essentially giving the formal go-ahead for the construction project.