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BNSF provides $500K for projects to document Bismarck-Mandan Rail Bridge legacy

Posted 10/23/23 (Mon)

By David Velázquez / The Bismarck Tribune

October 22, 2023 at 10:08 AM

BISMARCK — The State Historical Society of North Dakota is using a BNSF Railway grant to award a total of $500,000 to three Mandan organizations to help preserve the history of the Bismarck-Mandan Rail Bridge.

Construction to replace the 140-year-old bridge over the Missouri River has started despite attempts by a Bismarck citizen group to preserve the structure. A lawsuit filed by Friends of the Rail Bridge seeking to void state permits is pending with the North Dakota Supreme Court.

BNSF earlier this year provided $500,000 for a grant program to help document the history and legacy of the rail bridge. The State Historical Society oversaw the Bis-Man Rail Bridge Fund and accepted applications for salvage, exhibits, special projects and educational activities directly related to the history of the bridge.

The Historical Society is awarding $5,000 to the North Dakota Railroad Museum to create an exhibit about the bridge.

The Mandan Historical Society will receive $69,250 to create four videos about the current bridge and the new bridge project.

The city of Mandan will receive $196,750 to build a plaza area and welcome sign incorporating salvaged pieces of the existing bridge on the east end of Memorial Highway.

The sign will mimic the current bridge by featuring two piers made of stone and one span above the piers. The word "Mandan" will be between the piers on the ground.

"We're not quite sure if we can use the granite blocks to construct the piers. ... If we can't, it's possible that we can set the Mandan letters on those granite blocks and get them off the ground or we could use the granite stones as seating areas around this little plaza," City Administrator Jim Neubauer said at a city commission meeting in August.

The $229,000 not directly awarded will be used for salvaging pieces of the rail bridge that will then be used by the city of Mandan. BNSF will give the funds directly to a construction company to do the work.

Award recipients have one year from demolition of the rail bridge to use the funds, according to Historical Society Lead Historic Preservationist Lorna Meidinger. The existing bridge is expected to be removed following the construction of the new bridge — in summer 2026. Removal could take a year to complete, according to BNSF.

The Historical Society received four applications for the BNSF grant money that were then reviewed by a committee from the society's Archaeology and Historic Preservation Department and rated based on quality of the application and relevance to the history of the Bismarck-Mandan Rail Bridge.

“We appreciate the diverse applications that came in, " Meidinger said.

The application not awarded funds was submitted by the Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Bismarck, which wanted to paint a mural in the church’s rectory of the Last Supper with the rail bridge in the background, according to Meidinger.

Construction update

BNSF began work on the new $100 million bridge in July.

It will be on the existing BNSF right of way — roughly 30 feet north of the existing bridge's centerline. It will be 1,554 feet long and consist of 12 spans. Seven concrete spans varying in length from about 70-80 feet will be used for the approach spans — four on the west side of the river and three on the east. Five steel spans, each about 200 feet long, will be in place over the river. Eleven piers and two abutments will be constructed.

Since the project began, BNSF has constructed an access road into the project area on the west side of the river and brought in material for the embankment of the new bridge.

Crews will now be installing sheet piling for the first pier to be constructed — Pier 8 on the west side of the river, according to BNSF.

The next step from late 2024 to 2026 will be building the superstructure — or top part — of the bridge. Train traffic is tentatively scheduled to begin using the new bridge in late summer 2026.