Planned replacement bridge will still swing

The iconic Swinging Bridge over the Kootenai River is going to be replaced next year, but Three Rivers District Ranger Kirsten Kaiser said the new bridge will be designed with as much consideration of the look, feel, and character of the old bridge as possible.

“We want the public to understand it’s from a safety perspective that we’re replacing the bridge,” she said. “We also understand it’s an important area to the public, and that there are concerns about the replacement. We’re concerned not only with the look and feel of the bridge, but also with the character of the landscape and the bridge.”

Scoping documents provided by the U.S. Forest Service indicated the original plan was to replace the wood decking of the bridge, which was last replaced in October 2016, but when the bridge was evaluated it was discovered that the bridge did not meet current standards of safety. That determination, she said, requires the replacement of the bridge.

“The site is a very popular attraction and usage of the bridge has substantially increased over a decade; at peak season up to 600 people per day visit the site,” the document read. “The existing bridge was designed for limited use and does not meet current code standards. The Swinging Bridge has substantial use and potential for high pedestrian loading. Rehabilitation versus replacement options were discussed at length. Replacement is preferred to increase safety, to meet existing structure use, minimize long-term maintenance, and reduce liability exposure. Replacement with more robust cables and anchors is the only option to meet safety code requirements.”

The Forest Service, Kaiser said, has engaged the Missoula office of Morrison-Maierle to begin the design and engineering process for the new bridge. She said the agency hopes to have the design ready some time in September 2017, after which the necessary environmental assessments will begin to ensure both the structure and the construction process comply with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements.

Kaiser stressed that there will be no physical work on the bridge, nor are there any planned closures for the bridge in 2017. She added that prior to any work or limitations on access to the current bridge ample public notice would be given.

Kaiser also mentioned that this is not the first iteration of the bridge. The original was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, but was destroyed by the flood of 1948. The new bridge was constructed in 1951, and was rehabilitated in 1968, 1993, and 2016.

The new bridge, Kaiser said, will still have an “element of swing” to it.