OUR VOICE: County bridges bear heavy burden on budgets

Farm Forum

It is a bad combination.

Old bridges on roads in Brown County, costly repairs and tight budgets. Even if the federal government chips in for 80 percent of the repair costs in some cases.

The county highway department oversees all bridges longer than 20 feet — even if they’re on township roads. There are 152 such bridges in Brown County. A base cost to rebuild a bridge is $8,000 a foot. So a 21-foot bridge would cost $168,000.

Such costs add up in a hurry, especially in a county strapped for cash. But inspections suggest that some bridges need lower weight limits.

Options include closing some of the bridges, reducing their load limits or fixing them to handle heavier loads. The county highway department doesn’t have anywhere near enough money to replace or repair all of the aging bridges.

Farming equipment continues to get bigger, thus heavier. Closing bridges or lowering weight limits likely would be unpopular with neighboring landowners. Some equipment already is too wide to cross these decades-old bridges.

Costs increase directly and indirectly for taxpayers and landowners when those with heavy or oversized equipment have to avoid bridges. Such detours add extra miles, which mean more gas used and more wear and tear on county roads by such equipment.

If load limits would be reduced, the new restrictions might be hard to enforce. Would people obey such laws? Would already busy law enforcement have time to handle violators?

Deteriorating bridges pose increasing liability concerns if they fail. Plus, we have been dealing with floodwaters in recent years, resulting in more damage to some bridges.

The problems are many, and the solutions seem to be few. But the issue can’t be ignored.

We wonder if turning more bridges into culvert crossings would resolve some of the problems.

We wish we had more answers, but at the end of the day, this is a tough problem with no easy answers. We hope our elected county officials have reached out to other counties and state resources as well because many other South Dakota counties have dealt with these issues.

Structurally deficient bridges is one of those topics that can be easy to ignore until a tragedy happens. We applaud the county for tackling the issue head-on.

It’s better for the county to bridge the gap with action now, rather than bridge it with mere talk, which could leave it as a problem for the next set of commissioners.

The latter might come with a much higher price.

Bridges that might see load reductions this year

Bridge 346: Northwest of Hecla. About a mile and a half east of state Highway 37 on 103rd Street. Bridge 246: In North Detroit Township. About a half mile south of state Highway 10 on 409th Avenue. Bridge 138: Northeast of Groton. About three miles north of U.S. Highway 12 on 409th Avenue. Bridge 104: South of Groton. Just east of state Highway 37 on 137th Street. Bridge 008: In Highland Township. About a half mile east of the Edmunds County Line on 140th Street. Bridge 259: In Garden Prairie Township. About a mile and a half west of state Highway 37 on 145th Street. Bridge 068: Southeast of Stratford. About two miles west and a half mile south of County Road 16 on 398th Avenue.

Bridges scheduled to be replaced this year

Bridge 197: Two miles west of Frederick on County Road 5. Bridge 204: Nine miles west of Frederick on County Road 5. Bridge 025: Two miles east of Frederick on County Road 3. Bridge 238: Second bridge south of Columbia on County Road 16.