Why is the bridge being considered for demolition?
BNSF is in the process of evaluating a large number of their older through-truss bridges across the country. Many of these bridges are being considered for significant renovation or for replacement, and the Bismarck-Mandan Rail Bridge is one of them.
What alternatives are being considered for the bridge?
BNSF has developed 3 alternatives for the future of the bridge. Alternative 1 is to take no action and maintain the use of the existing structure. Alternative 2 is to build a new bridge 80 feet north of the current bridge while retaining the current bridge for use as a railroad siding. Alternative 3 is to build a new bridge with capability for expansion to 2 lanes 30 feet north of the current bridge. Alternative 3 includes removal of the current bridge. BNSF prefers Alternative 3.
Are there any other options?
BNSF has stated that they are willing to engage in discussion for a 4th alternative if an entity comes forward that is willing to assume responsibility for the bridge. Community members have expressed interest in preservation of the current bridge and repurposing it into a pedestrian and bicycle pathway. FORB believes that such a pathway would simultaneously preserve the history of the bridge and enhance recreational options for the community. Accordingly, FORB intends to work with BNSF to develop a viable Alternative 4, which would include FORB taking responsibility for the bridge. FORB understands and respects BNSF's need for a modern, dependable, more robust bridge. Our hope for Alternative 4 is that it satisfies all involved parties, meeting BNSF's need for a new bridge while also respecting the community's desire to maintain an iconic landmark.
If BNSF wants to demolish the current bridge because it is "near the end of its useful life," would it be safe if repurposed as a pedestrian bridge?
Over time, BNSF has increased the size and weight of cargo carried by their trains. The current bridge was not designed for the loads of the modern era, although they are within safe tolerances. Thus, the statement that the bridge is "near the end of its useful life" does not indicate a decrease in the safety or integrity of the bridge, but rather an increase in BNSF's criteria for what a useful bridge must be able to do. The current bridge is structurally sound and not in danger of failing.
If the current bridge is BNSF's property, why does the public have any say in the matter?
The US Coast Guard is the governing authority in charge of navigable waterways and is the lead Federal agency in charge of reviewing and issuing permits for construction projects that affect that waterway. Since this is a federal undertaking, it is necessary to perform a historic review process. A cultural resource survey of the current bridge was completed, and it was determined that the bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. As such, the Section 106 Historical Review Process is triggered. This is a process that encourages, but does not mandate, preservation of historic properties. As such, it is necessary to avoid, minimize, or mitigate any adverse effects that this project may have on the bridge. Demolition of the bridge is clearly an adverse effect, and the 106 process mandates that it can only be carried out if there is no other reasonable alternative.