The iconic swing bridge near Kootenai Falls between Libby and Troy is being replaced this year.
Officials with the Kootenai National Forest said Wesslen Construction Inc. of Spokane, Washington began work on the new bridge on March 28. The old bridge will remain open to the public for much of the construction, unless contractors need to close access for safety reasons. Spokesperson Willie Sykes said the new bridge would be built 15 feet upstream from the existing one.
The Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the first bridge near Kootenai Falls, which is accessible from U.S. Highway 2, in the 1930s to aid firefighters trying to access the north side of the river. The original bridge was destroyed in a flood in 1948 and a new one was constructed three years later in 1951. The bridge has since been rehabilitated three times, in 1968, 1993 and 2016.
In 2015, a bridge inspector told the U.S. Forest Service that the swinging structure would need to be replaced in the coming years to handle increasing foot traffic. Some days during the summer more than 600 people walk across the bridge.
The new bridge will be slightly wider and lower than the current one. The construction of the new bridge and dismantling of the old one is expected to cost approximately $600,000.
Beginning the last week of March, contractors were using helicopters to mobilize equipment for the three-month-long construction project.
“Public safety is paramount as heavy equipment, helicopters and workers will be in the vicinity of the bridge, falls and parking areas for approximately three months,” said Troy District Ranger Kirsten Kaiser. “All closures of the site will be coordinated between the Forest Service and Lincoln County, and the public will be notified in advance.”
Weekly updates will also be posted on Kootenai National Forest’s Facebook as well as the Lincoln County webpage at www.lincolncountymt.us.