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A truck crosses the Long X Bridge on U.S. Highway 85 south of Watford City in 2014.

Forum News Service photo

Historic bridges haven’t fared well in North Dakota. Structures from the 1930s to 1950s were functional for many years, but as traffic increased and vehicles got bigger and heavier, the need arose for larger bridges.

The latest historic span in danger is the Long X Bridge that crosses the Little Missouri River on U.S. Highway 85 near the north entrance of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation has proposed removing the bridge as part of a plan to expand Highway 85 in western North Dakota. The DOT would like to find a public or private agency to adopt one or more of the segments of the old bridge.

The planned highway work comes as traffic has increased because of the activity in the oil patch. It’s difficult for the highway and bridge to safely handle the traffic. During the oil boom several oversized trucks have hit the overhead framing of the bridge, closing it for hours and even days.

It’s hard to see these old bridges go. The Long X is nestled in a beautiful location in the Badlands. The bridge has an old charm to it. There will be some opposition to removing the bridge and expanding the highway that snakes through the Badlands and the North Unit of the park.

The Tribune Editorial Board believes the DOT is right in recommending the Highway 85 improvements. Even with more pipelines in the oil fields it’s unlikely the traffic will decline. The safety of local residents and motorists must come first.

Whether parts of the Long X can be saved remains to be seen. It’s difficult to find an agency that has a location for part of the bridge and can afford to maintain it. The Long X isn’t the only historic bridge in the state with an unknown future.

The BNSF Railway wants to build a new train bridge across the Missouri River between Mandan and Bismarck and remove the old bridge.

A group called the Friends of the Rail Bridge want to save the bridge and use it to connect the walking paths in the two cities. For logistical reasons, BNSF prefers to demolish the bridge.

The group faces an uphill battle to save the bridge. The Long X Bridge and railway bridge are likely to face the same fate as other old bridges.

The Lost Bridge was a three-span bridge designed by DOT and built in 1930. It was about 23 miles north of Killdeer. The bridge was relatively unused until approach roads were constructed in 1953 and paved in 1963 (north side) and in 1967 (south side). The bridge became famous as “Lost Bridge” because of the lack of paved roads. Ranchers in the area did use it to move cattle.

The Lost Bridge was dismantled in 1994 after a new bridge was constructed. A plaque and a piece of the old bridge were placed along Highway 22 as a memorial.

The Four Bears Bridge near New Town was built in 1955. It was replaced in 2005 and the old bridge demolished. The bridge is named for two chiefs, one Mandan and one Hidatsa. Both were named Four Bears.

The Liberty Memorial Bridge across the Missouri River between Bismarck and Mandan opened in 1922. Until that time, traffic was ferried across the river.

The $2 million bridge provided a key link for coast-to-coast traffic. Construction started in 1920. It was demolished in October 2008 after a new bridge was completed.

While it’s hard to see the old bridges taken down, there are several reasons it’s impractical to keep the old bridges after new ones are constructed. Hopefully, some agency will take part of the Long X Bridge.

There will be three public hearings on the Highway 85 project. All are from 5 to 7:30 p.m., one at the Belfield City Hall, May 29; one at the Billings County Rural Fire Hall in Fairfield, May 30; and the third at the Watford City City Hall on May 31.

Bridge proposals can be submitted through June 14. Written comments can be sent until June 25 to DOTUS85@nd.gov..

So there will be an opportunity for the public to comment on the merits of the project. However, it would appear the Long X Bridge’s days are numbered.

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