MDT, County Look to Upgrade Historic Swan River Bridge

Swan River Bridge is the subject of an open house at Bigfork Elementary School on April 12

By Justin Franz
A vehicle crosses the Bridge Street bridge near the PacifiCorp power plant, seen right, on the edge of the Swan River in downtown Bigfork. Cleanup of contamination is set for this winter for the riverbank and a separate location downstream. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon

The Montana Department of Transportation and Flathead County are looking to upgrade or possibly even replace an historic iron bridge in Bigfork.

The Swan River Bridge is the subject of an open house at Bigfork Elementary School on April 12. There, members of the public were able to learn more about the $300,000 feasibility study headed up by MDT and KLJ Engineering.

The one-lane bridge was built in the early 1900s and connects the village of Bigfork to Montana Highway 35. The bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places last year.

Ed Toavs, Missoula district administrator for MDT, said Flathead County approached the department about reviewing the safety and usefulness of the bridge. The bridge is owned by the county and currently has a three-ton load limit.

“There are concerns about the bridge’s structural state,” he said. “Anytime you have 100-year-old bridge you want to make sure to keep it safe.”

The bridge was built by the A.Y. Bayne & Company in 1911 and 1912 and cost the county $4,400 to construct. Although some alterations have been made, including the addition of a sidewalk and new railings, the bridge looks much like it did a century ago. The local efforts to add the bridge to the historic register, which is administered by the National Park Service, came about in 2014 when the county announced that it was looking to possibly replace the old bridge. In the application to register the bridge, it was noted that the structure is representative of many road bridges built in Montana between 1888 and 1915.

Inclusion on the historic register does not mean the bridge cannot be removed or replaced, but it does mean it is less likely to be altered without community input.

Toavs said the feasibility study would look at different options to repair the bridge or replace it. The study will be completed by the end of the year. Although it’s too early to say what will happen, Toavs noted the old iron bridge is important to local residents.

“It’s part of the community and we’ve received a lot of comments about its importance to the citizens of Bigfork,” he said. “Those will absolutely be taken into consideration during this study.”

For more information, visit www.mdt.mt.gov/pubinvolve/bigforkbridge/

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.