A Linton-area rancher plans to preserve a portion of the historic Long X Bridge that will be replaced as part of a U.S. Highway 85 expansion project in western North Dakota.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation plans to begin construction this spring or summer on a new four-lane bridge to cross the Little Missouri River south of Watford City.

Because the bridge is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the department put a portion of the bridge up for adoption to preserve the architecture. The agency selected a proposal from Paul Silbernagel to reassemble the southern span of the bridge on his ranch east of Linton.

“I’m just glad that we can be preserving part of it,” Silbernagel said.

The Department of Transportation recently announced the completion of the final environmental impact statement for the proposed expansion of Highway 85 from Interstate 94 to south of Watford City.

Supporters say a four-lane highway is needed to improve safety due to increased oil traffic, but conservation groups raised concerns about impacts to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and a sensitive 7-mile stretch through the Badlands.

The only portion of the 62-mile project that has funding is replacing the Long X Bridge and about 1 ½ miles of associated roadways, said Matt Linneman, project manager.

The agency plans to solicit bids this spring to construct a new four-lane bridge to the east of the Long X Bridge. Traffic will continue to use the Long X until the new bridge is complete, which is likely to be in 2020, Linneman said.

The Long X Bridge, built in 1959, is one of four remaining examples of a Warren through truss bridge in the state of North Dakota, according to an environmental study.

The southern suspended span of the bridge, about 250 feet, is the portion that will be adopted by Silbernagel for his ranch a few miles east of Linton.

“It’s going to have to be taken apart and inventoried piece by piece and then it will be hauled to adoptee’s site,” Linneman said.

The Department of Transportation received a lot of interest in adopting a portion of the bridge, but no proposals submitted from McKenzie, Billings or Stark counties where the Highway 85 project is located, Linneman said. The agency chose Silbernagel’s proposal because he had the most complete plan that met the goals of the adoption program, Linneman said.

“The main point is trying to preserve the architectural feature of the truss,” Linneman said.

The bridge will be reconstructed to cross Beaver Creek in south central North Dakota, more than 200 miles away from its current location. Silbernagel said his ranch features a valley that is similar to where the Long X is located now.

“It’s actually the perfect setting,” he said.

Silbernagel uses the ranch to take care of Nokota horses, a breed that traces its ancestry back to Sitting Bull’s ponies.

“A lot of people from all over the world come to see them,” Silbernagel said.

While the bridge will be on private property, Silbernagel said he wants to share it with visitors. The bridge also will be visible from Highway 13.

“I just feel privileged to be chosen to get it,” Silbernagel said. “We just want to do it right.”

Silbernagel lives in Bismarck, where he works as a nurse anesthetist, but spends a lot of his time at the ranch that’s been in his family since 1967.

“It will be in the family for many years. The intent is not to sell the property ever,” he said. “This bridge will, I suppose, become a family heirloom someday.”

The Department of Transportation will pay for the disassembly, loading and up to 100 miles of trucking. Silbernagel will be responsible for assembling and maintaining the bridge.

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Timing, funding uncertain

The timing for the rest of the Highway 85 expansion is unknown because no funding has been identified other than for Long X Bridge. The entire project is estimated to cost $479 million.

“There's a lot of discussion, a lot of opportunities we’re looking into, but there’s no solid identified funds other than for Long X Bridge,” Linneman said.

Sen. Dale Patten, R-Watford City, said he’s hopeful some state funding can be identified this legislative session that could be used as matching funds toward federal programs.

“It’s such a big project that the ability to get funding has been a challenge,” Patten said.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said no state funding is currently identified for expanding Highway 85, but discussions are continuing this session, including a meeting with the Department of Transportation this week.

“I’ve driven that road many times, and it’s one of the most dangerous roads in North Dakota,” Wardner said.

It’s also unknown if the project will face any legal challenges. During public hearings, the highway expansion drew concerns from conservation groups about its impact to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and wildlife habitat.

Transportation officials aimed to use flexible design options to minimize impacts and keep the footprint as small as possible, Linneman said.

“We tried to listen hard to all of those perspectives and provide a balanced design and balanced solution,” he said.

Linneman said he was not aware of any challenges to the final environmental impact statement as of last week. The document says there is a 150-day statute of limitations to bring claims seeking judicial review.

The record of decision is available at www.dot.nd.gov/projects/williston/US85I94/.

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(Reach Amy Dalrymple at 701-250-8267 or Amy.Dalrymple@bismarcktribune.com)