Climbing inspectors complete a full inspection of the Dearborn River High Bridge on Dec. 20 in preparation for rail and deck repairs this week.

Climbing inspectors complete a full inspection of the Dearborn River High Bridge on Dec. 20 in this photo posted online by the Montana Department of Transportation. 

Photo provided by Montana Department of Transportation

Lewis and Clark County will repair and reopen a historic bridge that was damaged earlier this month by an overloaded tractor trailer, although details are yet to be determined.

On Tuesday, the Montana Department of Transportation shared an online photo of crews assessing the Dearborn River High Bridge southwest of Augusta on Dec. 20. The social media post indicated the bridge could be reopened to the public sometime this week, but county officials said Tuesday that weather will dictate the timing of repairs.

The decking and railing of the 120-year-old bridge were damaged Dec. 12 by a tractor trailer believed to weigh 35 tons – exceeding the posted weight limit of 7 tons. The bridge was then shuttered while awaiting inspection and an engineering report detailing needed repairs.

“It’s a critical piece of infrastructure just for the local people and the ranchers that cross back and forth daily,” said Eric Griffin, Lewis and Clark County public works director. “The bridge is not damaged enough that we’ll have to close it permanently.”

Crews attempted to reach the bridge Tuesday but ran into drifted roads and minus 25 degree weather, he said, causing them to back off. Griffin did not have a timeline for repairs but said the engineering report is still needed and some warmer weather would help move work along. Repairs will not affect the 7-ton weight limit.

The cost of repairs has not yet been determined, Griffin said. If the bridge had been damaged beyond repair, a replacement would be a multi-million dollar project.

With the bridge currently closed, an alternative route adds more than 40 miles of travel, Griffin added.

The bridge has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2003 and serves mainly ranch land.

The unique, 251-foot bridge crosses the North Fork of the Dearborn River in a canyon about 15 miles southwest of Augusta on Highway 434. The county accepted a bid of $9,000 from King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio, for construction in 1897.

The Department of Transportation completed a $1 million rehabilitation of the bridge in 2003.

County officials have not yet determined whether any charges will be filed in connection with the damaged bridge. 

Sheriff Leo Dutton said Tuesday that a deputy has been assigned to write a report on the incident. County Attorney Leo Gallagher said Tuesday his office had not yet received the report to review.

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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Natural Resources Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter / Assistant Editor for The Independent Record.

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