Bridge work Alcova Bridge replacement hits delay
Alcova – In 2015, a regular review of bridge safety by the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) alerted Natrona County Commissioners that, due to some safety concerns, a three-ton weight limit of would be imposed on the bridge.
“Technically, we couldn’t have gotten a pick-up truck and camper across the bridge,” explains Natrona County Commission President John Lawson. “We were notified in June 2015, when the recreation season was starting.”
Because of the weight restrictions, the bridge was reduced to one-lane traffic to get through the holiday season and allow campers access to Alcova.
Immediately, a consultant was hired, and the company made recommendations as to repairs that would have to be made to increase weight restrictions and provide some usability of the bridge in the short-term.
“We had a bit of sticker shock when we found out that repairs would be $400,000 in round numbers,” Lawson explains. “We thought that was a lot of money to spend on a bridge we would be tearing out rather soon.”
However, after conversations among the commission and WYDOT representatives, a decision was made to make the temporary repairs – a decision which was fortunate.
“As a result of the temporary repairs, WYDOT rated the bridge at 29 tons by January 2016,” Lawson says.
Though temporary repairs had been completed, Lawson says, “While it eased restrictions some, 29 tons won’t get a cattle truck across the bridge, but that did take care of most of the traffic.”
He continues, “We were relatively confident the bridge would be sufficient in the short-term. We were pleased about that.”
The bridge is county-owned, Lawson explains, but under a state bridge replacement program, counties are assisted in replacement of bridges, which are very costly to replace. With funds from Natrona County and a $600,000 grant from the State Loan and Investment Board, construction was slated to begin immediately.
“The Alcova bridge got moved up in priority because of the safety concerns,” he explains.
WYDOT is responsible for bidding and selecting a contractor for the project, and Lawson says Natrona County was responsible for approximately $600,000 of the $2.8 million cost for the bridge. Other costs, including bridge design brought the total estimated cost for the project to $3.6 million.
“It’s a lot of money, but the bridge covers a big span, and it’s 30 miles from town,” he explains. “They also have to bring in a portable, temporary bridge that meets the highway standards of 40-ton capacity while they’re constructing the permanent bridge.”
At that point, WYDOT awarded a contract to a local company.
“We were expecting, at the latest, the bridge should have been done in the fall of 2018,” Lawson says. “We thought we may even had the bridge completed by the spring of 2018, but now, that has been delayed to October 2019.”
After some unexpected challenges, Lawson explains, “We were informed by WYDOT they are working with the bonding company to get a new contracts now.”
“We’re negotiating with the original contractor’s bonding company to complete the bridge,” explains Mark Gillett, WYDOT assistant chief engineer for operations. “The bridge will be built, but it is unlikely that it will be completed this year.”
To complete the bridge, WYDOT is working with the original contractor’s bonding company to find another contractor and finance the project.
“Though the bridge won’t be completed on time, WYDOT is committed to building this bridge,” Gillett adds. “It’s just going to take some time to find another contractor, work through the financial pieces and get the work completed.”
Lawson says the project will have no additional expenses, but the bridge will be delayed by approximately a year.
In the meantime, Lawson notes local ranchers expressed concern for the lack of a bridge.
“In addition to ranchers who needed to ship their cattle, our local county maintenance crews were unable to get their equipment across the bridge,” he explains. “We worked with the Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec) to arrange an agreement where we could bring the heavier loads over the Alcova Dam.”
A bridge exists over the spillway of Alcova Dam, and BuRec says the bridge can handle 40 tons, which meets highway regulations and local needs.
“Anyone who wants to get across the Alcova Dam bridge can call the Sheriff’s Department dispatcher, who will send someone to open the gates via a keypad and code,” Lawson explains. “They also coordinate with the BuRec control center.”
“This agreement allows vehicles that exceed the 29-ton restriction to cross the river at that location,” he says.
The agreement is renewed annually, and BuRec has indicated it will renew the arrangement through next year.
Lawson comments, “BuRec has been really accommodating. We’re grateful everyone out there has worked together. There aren’t other alternatives, so we had to do something.”
The Alcova Bridge serves as a major economic driver of central Wyoming, providing access to Alcova’s Black and Cottonwood Beach, as well as an outlet for many ranches to ship cattle.
“For ranchers, their only other option for shipping cattle is to go through Hanna, which is unacceptable,” Lawson says.
In addition, the bridge provides access to Alcova’s school, and any school bus was restricted from crossing the bridge as a result of the weight limit.
“This bridge has a major economic impact, not only to the ranchers and to the school but also to the recreation community,” he says. “The bridge is heavily used and provides access to the back side of Alcova.”
“I’m really thankful we made those repairs when we did because there was a lot of second guessing by many people who weren’t sure about spending $400,000 to fix a bridge that was going to be torn out,” he explains. “It’s worked out well, and it was well worth the money.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.