Study says landmark Bismarck rail bridge could be converted to pedestrian use, but cost is high

BNSF wants to remove bridge, parts of which date to 1882, to build modern structure
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BISMARCK, N.D.  — A North Dakota State University study says it would be feasible to convert BNSF Railway’s Bismarck-Mandan bridge into a pedestrian crossing of the Missouri River, but such a conversion would be expensive.

The study by the university’s Department of Architecture and Landscape Architecture places the costs of the conversion of the bridge at almost $6.9 million, the Bismarck Tribune reports.

The bridge’s future has been a long-running problem for BNSF, which wants to replace the current structure — built in 1905 using piers dating to 1882 — with a modern bridge, and maintains the current bridge must come down because of the complex logistics of replacement. [See “BNSF focuses on regulatory challenges with NRC presentation,” Trains News Wire, Jan. 8, 2019.] The U.S. Coast Guard is involved because the bridge crosses a navigable waterway, and a local group — Friends of the Rail Bridge — wants to save the structure because it is a local landmark. The preservation group used a grant to pay for the North Dakota State study.

BNSF took issue with the study, the Tribune reports, noting that no funding for the project exists. “Without funding sources, identified and committed, we are looking at years of potential delay,” BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth told the paper. The railroad estimates that retaining the current bridge would add up to $30 million to the project, which previously had been estimated at $40 million, and could lengthen the replacement process by two to three years.
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