Commission gets bridge update

VIRGINIA CITY – Residents, ranchers and emergency vehicles will have easier access to the west side of the Ruby River in Laurin when a new bridge is completed next month.

Great West Engineering project manager Jeremiah Theys updated the Madison County Commission last Tuesday on the status of the Laurin Bridge project. Theys reported construction contractor Tamietti Construction is on schedule to finish the bridge by mid-January. The old bridge dated back to 1945 and was rated at three-tons, insufficient for larger emergency and farm vehicles.

“It’s been reconfigured once or twice and we were down to a three-ton weight limit on it,” said Madison County Commissioner Dan Allhands. “It’s a vital bridge. It’s a secondary road. With a three-ton weight limit on, ambulances, fire trucks, emergency vehicles couldn’t cross it any longer.”

Allhands estimated approximately 500 ranchers and residents use the bridge on a regular basis. Once the bridge is complete, first responders will no longer be forced to take an approximately 15-mile detour to service people working and living west of the Ruby River in the Laurin area.

Commissioner Jim Hart said the enhancement to public safety is the main benefit of the new bridge. “Ranchers on that side of the river are particularly affected,” he said. “Health, safety and welfare is our primary reason for being.”

Hart said the Laurin project was deferred until the county completed another bridge south of Ennis, funded by the Treasure State Endowment Program. “It was a project we put on hold a number of years ago, in order to take care of the Blaine Springs Creek bridge with the TSEP program,” he said. “We delayed that Laurin bridge and now is 

the time for us to do it.”

The commission voted 3-0 to approve a change order for the project, adding a dry hydrant, at a cost of $3,800.

More bridge replacements planned

The county has funding in place and will replace the Varney bridge across the Madison River, south of Ennis, in 2019. The county will pay $750,000 of the $4.2 million project cost and the Montana Department of Transportation will pay the remainder.

The county also has a tentative plan to replace the Giem bridge, near Twin Bridges, in 2020. According to Hart, the Giem bridge replacement will be about the same cost as the Laurin bridge.

Bridge replacement has been a major priority for county government in recent years, said Hart. “Madison County has about 70 bridges,” he said. “We’ve replaced about 80 percent of them in the last 15-20 years,” said Hart. “Some of those have been replaced with box culverts.”

Courthouse project discussed

Commissioners discussed installation of an elevator in the old courthouse with a representative from Bozeman firm Thinkone Architecture. “We wanted to give them an update as to what we’ve been trying to figure out,” said Hart.

The goal of the proposed elevator project is to improve accessibility to the upstairs courtroom and avoid lawsuits. “Over the years, we’ve been concerned about the old courthouse and accessibility,” said Hart. “We haven’t been in a financial pickle, as far as someone attempting to sue us or anything like that, but it’s been close enough that we said ‘hey, it’s an old building, we better figure out what to do with it.’ Way back when, we were going to build a law and justice center in the spot where our new building is right now. We went to the voters requesting some funding for it, including a jail, and they said ‘no thanks.’ But the initial question has not been solved – how to get better accessibility up to the courtroom.”

Hart said the commission asked the architect to solve the problems of where to build the elevator  within the building and how to preserve the historic aspects of the building. The firm is investigating solutions and is expected to provide a draft plan and cost estimate to the commission soon.

The old courthouse contains the county attorney’s office, district court, district judge’s office and judicial clerks’ offices.

Also during the Dec. 19 meeting, the commission:

• Approved For human resources employee Bonnie O’Neil to attend public information officer training.

• Accepted bids on surplus property: $3,780 for a 1997 Ford dump truck, $4,305 for a 1993 Freightliner semi-tractor, $10,000 for a low-boy trailer, $650 for a riding lawn mower, and $301 for a snowplow.

• Accepted the resignation of Dave Clark from the cemetery board. The commission is seeking candidates from District 3 to fill the seat.

• Approved the Ruby Valley Search and Rescue training plan for 2018, presented by Margie Edsall and David Welch.

• Discussed ways to find a part-time worker to clean blinds and light fixtures in the administration building, the old courthouse, and possibly the library. The commission advertised for four weeks but received no response. The county is accepting proposals from anyone interested in the work.

• Approved changes to billing and invoicing procedures for purchases from Amazon.

• Approved a letter to the Department of Revenue stating there are no district boundary changes.

The next county commission meeting is scheduled for Jan. 2 at 9:30 a.m. at the administration building in Virginia City.

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