The Montana Department of Transportation is putting the finishing touches on a bridge on U.S. Highway 2 near East Glacier. The concrete bridge is the first of its type to be built in Montana and, according to MDT officials, is the state’s largest bridge project ever.
The new bridge crosses the Two Medicine River and the final cost is expected to be about $26 million. Workers were finishing the final span last week and will then spend the next two months paving the road and putting on safety rails before it opens in late September. The new bridge will replace a deteriorating structure built in the 1940s and does not meet current safety standards.
Construction of the new bridge began in 2010, but plans to replace the old bridge date back nearly two decades. The new bridge is concrete and 1,520 feet long and stands 195 feet above the river. It features two 12-foot wide driving lanes, two 8-foot wide shoulders and a 6-foot wide sidewalk.
Bruce Kates of Jacobson Engineering designed the new span and said it was picked because it could stretch long distances without many pillars. The main span is more than 500 feet long.
Since construction began, Kates has remained on site to see the project through each stage. Kates is based out of St. Louis, Mo. and has been involved with many bridge projects, the largest of which was the Sam Houston Ship Channel Bridge in Texas.
“I tell people I’m not an expert, but because of all of the projects I have been involved with, I’m pretty well informed,” he said.
While the new bridge has been under construction for the last few years, traffic has continued to use the old span. According to a MDT report, more than 1,900 people use the bridge everyday. U.S. Highway 2 is a critical link across the Northern Plains and if the Two Medicine Bridge was deemed unusable, the only way to travel the 13 miles between East Glacier and Browning would require a 370-mile detour.
The new bridge is expected to last 75 years or more and, according to MDT’s Fred Beal, will be able to withstand high winds. Beal said the new bridge was one of the largest highway projects ever completed in the state.
Once the new bridge is open to traffic, MDT will focus on how to take down the old bridge, which will happen sometime this fall.
Although it is not the largest bridge Kates has worked on, he is eager to see what was once just a drawing on his desk become a finished structure.
“It’s great. It’s rewarding to be able to work on the design and then see it get built,” he said. “When you’re finished, you can walk up to it, put your hand on it and know you did a good job. You can say to yourself, ‘That’s my bridge.’”
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