Officials bridging the gap

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 20, 2002

It's only a bridge, but it bridges myth and reality.

The myth: Mower County commissioners are "sitting on" millions of reserves.

The reality: They are spending some of it to upgrade deficient bridges in Mower County.

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At least, that's how one Austin Township Board official views it.

The new bridge over Orchard Creek southwest of Austin is proof-positive of Mower County's commitment to a quality farm-to-market secondary road system.

"When people see the city of Austin building an ice arena and the Mower County Board and others helping them with money, they may get the wrong idea about how tax dollars are spent," said Richard Epley, chairman of the Austin Township Board. "This project, this bridge is truly a public works project for everyone's use and enjoyment. Transportation is a necessity and our County Highway Department is doing a great job of taking care of those needs."

Epley organized a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday afternoon. Ron Skjeveland and Sheldon Lukes, Austin Township Board members, joined David Hillier, Mower County Commissioner (3rd District), Mike Hanson, Mower County Engineer and Gary Barclay and Al Karsjens, bridge inspector and engineering technician, respectively.

Hillier represents the district in which the Orchard Creek bridge is located. "It's a good project and we're all happy and pleased to see it repaired. this road and the bridge get a lot of use i this area of the county," Hillier said.

The bridge is located over Orchard Creek in far-western Austin Township only two miles from the Freeborn County line.

Mower County Highway No. 4 is a heavily traveled farm-to-market roadway, serving farm families and non-farm residents in the area.

An old wood piling bridge traversed Orchard Creek and torrential rains caused frequent washouts along the narrow roadway.

According to Barclay and Karsjens, whose jobs it is to chronicle the county's 370 bridge structures

(i.e. culverts) and 420 total bridges, the work intensified in 1999.

That's when Hanson convinced the Mower County Board of Commissioners to embark on an aggressive campaign to repair or replace deficient bridges in the county.

"Work started on this bridge January 12," explained Hanson at Friday's bridge opening ceremony. "What we have here is a concrete slab span-style bridge of three spans. It's a typical bridge design for a location such as this."

"The County Board has committed $2.5 million of its reserves for an aggressive program to address bridge repair or replacement needs," Hanson said. "For instance, we're going to see between 7 and 10 projects like this done this year. That may be a record in mower County, where the county is responsible for all the bridges."

"In addition," Hanson said, "there will be over $1 million in paving projects for some six miles of roadway. That's a lot of Highway Department work citizens will see this year."

"We're still about $2.5 million short of funding for all the work we'd like to do in Mower County, but with the help of the County Board's designating reserves for our efforts, we're making real progress," he said.

According to Austin Township Board member Skjeveland, "The Minnesota Association of Townships has made it a priority to call for more state funding for road and bridge projects."

"We're very pleased to see Mower County, the state and the townships joining in this effort," Skjeveland said.

In all, 50 bridges or bridge structures have been repaired or replaced since 1998 in Mower County. At a cost of $1,000 per structure, that's $5 million

being spent on bridges in Mower County."

Minnowa Construction, Inc. of Harmony, contractor for the Orchard Creek bridge and one of the businesses bridge builders anywhere received a $320,000 contract for the latest project.

The County Engineer agreed, the pool of monies from the state bonding bill, township bridge funds, local monies such s Mower County's use of reserves and the state aid dollars

are essential for the aggressive campaign to upgrade roads and bridges.

Hanson also emphasized, "Mower County looks for the most cost-efficient solution wherever possible. That may mean the use of culverts instead of a span bridge."

The 24-foot roadway has 6-foot shoulders on either side.

No bridge in Mower County is officially named and the latest will go into the record books as "Bridge No. 50582."