The new Normal

Area group looking to help replace Normal Street Bridge
By 
M.P. Regan
Tuesday, November 22, 2022
A Bridge Too Far Gone

Closed due to safety concerns for much of the year, the dilapidated Normal Street Bridge in Dillon will serve as the subject of a multi-media event next week aiming to start the process to replace it. M.P. Regan photo

A drive to replace a conduit for engaging the oldest form of human transportation could gain a big boost next week from various currently popular forms of communication technology.

The Beaverhead Trails Coalition (BTC)will host an event Tuesday, Nov. 29, to raise awareness and funds for a project to address a dilapidated pedestrian bridge in Dillon.

“We’re looking to get money to pay for a feasibility study to replace the Normal Street Bridge,” said Celine Beauchamp-Stout of the Beaverhead Trails Coalition of a study with an estimated $3000 price tag could feasibly get covered by a single day of vigorous giving through various conduits of donation.

“You can donate to the project through our website or Facebook page, starting right after midnight on Tuesday,” said Beauchamp-Stout of a contemporary means of contributing to the drive what will also accept donations by the most basic and ancient of means.

“Or you can come donate in person,” said Beauchamp-Stout of an opportunity available Tuesday from noon to 3 p.m. at a table BTC will set up by the east side of the bridge on Pacific Street, where more information about the project will also be available, along with hot cocoa, cookies, maps and other information.

“You could also send a donation for the project to us by mail, but it won’t get to us in time for you to get into the drawings,” added Beauchamp-Stout of an hourly prize drawing that will be streamed live over BTC’s Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon, with people who’ve donated during the day eligible to gain prizes.

Showing up to the BTC table on Tuesday will also afford you a close look at the Normal Street Bridge—or at least as close a look as you can get these days.

A short wooden structure spanning the Dillon Canal between Washington Street and Pacific Street just west of the western edge of the University of Montana Western campus, the Normal Street Bridge got closed by the city last winter.

“We’ve closed the bridge for those of you who aren’t aware because of structural concerns—there’s a safety issue there,” City Councilperson Don Hand reminded his fellow members of the Street & Alley at their Nov. 7 meeting.

“So, the current thought among some of us on the council, to be completely honest, is to tear the bridge out in totality. We are not abandoning the street; we are not closing the street; we are leaving the street like it is. And if some group of citizens would like to put in a new walking bridge in at the end,” continued Hand, “we’d have to take a look at that.”

“We just can’t afford it,” said Hand of the city, which is facing a difficult year of budgeting ahead.

“Besides, private individuals can do it a lot cheaper than the city can due to restrictions. We have to meet certain codes and have engineering certified and everything else, whereas private concern doesn’t necessarily have to go through all that,” continued Hand.

“If the [Beaverhead Trails] Coalition wanted to put a bridge in and it met whatever the codes and specifications needed to be, I don’t see why the city wouldn’t accept that as basically a donation and an upgrade of the existing bridge,” City Attorney Sky Jones advised members of the Streets & Alleys Committee at their November meeting.

“Then the city could, we could either retain liability or we could ask the Trails Coalition to provide liability insurance for that particular structure, there’s a lot of different ways we could go about that.“ Beauchamp-Stout reiterated to the Tribune that the first step in replacing the bridge would be to fund a feasibility study that could also help bankroll subsequent steps in the project.

“The feasibility study will be very useful if we to apply for grants,” said Beauchamp-Stout of the bridge replacement project she’s been advised would cost around $80,000.

No one who has spoken at city meetings about the Normal Street Bridge in recent years seems quite sure about exactly what year it was built.

But indications that it needed to be rebuilt or replaced began showing up in official records decades ago, according to Nye.

“I just know clear back in 1978,” said Nye, of the city’s view of the old, warped structure that might have looked at home in the famous painting entitled The Scream by Edward Munch, “they determined that it needed repair then and never did. So, that’s why it’s in the state that it is.”

For more information about the Normal Street Bridge and the Beaverhead Trails Coalition’s drive to replace it, go to www.beaverheadtrails.org/.

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