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Bridge work begins in Nobles County

Ryan mcgaughey/daily globe A bridge that has been reduced to one lane of travel since a partial collapse last year sits closed Wednesday afternoon, awaiting the start of reconstruction.

BREWSTER -- It has been nearly a year since a milling machine broke through a timber bridge structure on Nobles County State Aid Highway 1 south of Brewster, causing a partial collapse and a road restricted to one lane of travel. This morning, construction crews are finally on the scene to begin removing what is left of the bridge and replacing it with a precast concrete box culvert.

The good news couldn't come soon enough for people -- particularly farmers -- who have had to deal with the width-restricted roadway for the past 11 months.

Still, it wasn't the county's first choice in bridge replacements. A weight-restricted bridge on CSAH 14, west of Brewster, has actually caused more traffic problems. The bridge was posted down to a 10-ton weight limit because wooden pilings that brace the bridge are rotting. The road is a major route for farmers who haul grain to Minnesota Soybean Processors at Brewster.

Nobles County Commissioners had given the CSAH 14 bridge top priority in replacement, but fiber optic cables in the road ditch are delaying the project for at least a couple of weeks.

"We had notified them last spring to have (the fiber optic cables moved) by July," said Nobles County Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder. "They admitted they made a mistake -- they lost track of the project, and it didn't get done."

As of Wednesday morning, the company had workers in Nobles County to begin the process of moving the cables.

Meanwhile, rather than lose the contractor to a job elsewhere, Schnieder requested the projects be switched around with CSAH 1 bridge replaced first.

Crews were at the width-restricted bridge late Wednesday afternoon to get the detour route signed and remove the temporary concrete barriers. It is estimated to take two days for the existing timber bridge to be removed.

"They cut pieces off and lift them off in sections to haul away," Schnieder said. "It's a fairly quick operation."

Excavation work will temporarily block the waters of Elk Creek as the precast concrete box culverts are put in place.

Three culverts will be installed in place of the timber bridge, with the center culvert measuring 16 feet wide by 12 feet high. The side culverts are slightly smaller.

After the box culverts are in place, fill will be brought in to cover the concrete structures before riprap and grading work begins.

Then, starting the week of Sept. 19, work is expected to begin on the CSAH 14 bridge. Again, the timber structure will be removed and replaced with a precast concrete box structure.

With this replacement, Schnieder said they will also need to work with a farmer who has cattle that pass under the bridge to get to pasture.

"We're looking at about a week and a half to two weeks to get the pipe in place and get everything shaped up," said Schnieder. "The bituminous contractor will come in then and do paving."

Overall, the two bridge replacement projects should take four to five weeks to complete, he estimated. That means the bridges won't be ready for farmers in time for soybean harvest, but hopefully will be finished before corn harvest is completed.

Until then, area residents and travelers will need to follow the signed detours. During the CSAH 1 replacement project, motorists will use Minnesota 60 and CSAH 36; while the detour around CSAH 14 will be signed to travel CSAH 3 to Minnesota 60.

Once both bridges are finished, Schnieder said there will be no weight restrictions or width restrictions on either bridge.

"One nice thing about the culverts is you have unlimited width capability in case something wider needs to go across them," he said.

Midwest Contracting of Marshall was hired to replace both bridges at a combined cost of $1,047,000. While the precast structures cost about the same as a bridge, Schnieder said the county saved quite a bit of money on design by opting for culverts.

"We have some savings in less engineering costs, and less inspection costs because (the culverts) go in so much faster," Schnieder said. It's also an advantage to the public, as the road needs to be detoured for only a few weeks, rather than a few months.

More work continues

Once the CSAH 1 and CSAH 14 projects are completed, Nobles County will still have eight bridges on the County State Aid Highway system that need to be replaced in the near future.

Those projects are estimated to cost nearly $4 million. Another bridge on the county road system is also in need of replacement. All of them are posted for weight restrictions.

Schnieder said his office is working on the necessary papers to file for state bonding money to help cover the construction costs.

The county is also considering bonding for bridge replacements. If state bonding money is received, the local bonding money would not be used, he added.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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