By Ivan Raconteur
Bridge 5881 over the Crow River in Bergen Township has been closed since December, and the debate about its replacement drifted into uncharted waters Tuesday night when a vote on a proposal to take over the bridge from the county ended in a tie.
This is something new, and the township does not have a procedure in place to resolve it.
Township Clerk Anita Bahr said she has been in touch with the township’s legal consultants at the Minnesota Association of Townships seeking advice on the matter.
“If it was a tie vote on a township office, we would normally decide the outcome by rolling a die or drawing a card, but the residents felt this was not an appropriate way to resolve this question,” Bahr said.
The question before the township Tuesday night was whether to allow the county to turn back ownership of the bridge and a 4.14 mile section of McLeod County Road 84 to the township, or leave things as they are.
In meetings with the township since the structurally deficient bridge was closed in December, McLeod County Engineer John Brunkhorst has told the township that the only sure way to get the bridge replaced this year is for the township to take it over.
Brunkhorst drafted a proposed agreement for the turn-back after he met with County Commissioner Ray Bayerl and a committee selected by the township.
Bahr said 36 residents voted, and the vote was evenly split, with 18 residents voting in favor of the agreement, and 18 voting against.
“It was very polarizing and very emotional,” Bahr commented.
It comes down to two basic positions. The priority for some residents is to get the bridge replaced as soon as possible. For others, cost and concern about the township’s ability to maintain the road are the major factors.
The meeting was continued until the Thursday, June 12 regular township meeting to give the township time to decide how to resolve the issue.
The 36 residents who voted Tuesday represent only a small percentage of the voters in the township. According to the secretary of state, 507 Bergen Township residents voted in the 2004 general election.
Township has two options
The bridge will be replaced, but the question of when will be determined by who owns it.
If the township were to take ownership, the bridge could be replaced this year using township bridge funds from the state.
However, the township would be responsible for future maintenance, an issue which concerns some township residents.
Those opposed to taking over the bridge point out that the township does not currently have any paved roads, so it has no experience with maintaining paved roads, or the cost involved in doing so.
About 1.5 miles of the road is paved, and the rest is gravel.
Under the terms of the proposed agreement, the township would take over ownership of the bridge, but the county would continue to maintain the bridge and County Road 84 for a period of 15 years, Brunkhorst said.
In addition to routine maintenance, the county would be responsible for a larger-scale rehabilitation project on the road near the end of the 15 years, before maintenance of the road was turned over to the township, Brunkhorst said.
If the bridge remains a county bridge, it will likely not be replaced until 2009 or later.
This delay is an issue for some township residents.
Convenience, customer access to business, and response time for emergency services are among the concerns that have been mentioned by those who want the bridge replaced as soon as possible.
Brunkhorst said the bonding bill that was passed recently included $50 million in bridge funds.
Of this amount, $25 million was dedicated to a project in Hennepin county. A large portion of the remaining $25 million will be used as matching funds for federal aid bridges. Any remaining funds will be allocated to bridges that have a traffic count exceeding 100 cars per day or are fracture-critical.
The Bergen Township bridge, with a traffic count greater than 250 vehicles per day, meets both of those criteria, Brunkhorst said.
He added that he has contacted MnDOT to find out if there will be any bonding funds for the Bergen Township bridge this year, but he has not yet received a response.
Although the township has yet to make a decision on whether or not to accept the proposed agreement, Brunkhorst said he is working under the assumption that it will stay a county road.
Under this scenario, removal of the existing bridge is a local cost, and Brunkhorst said he is moving forward with plans to remove the bridge, and will bring this before the county board for consideration in the near future.
Removing the bridge now will save some time when funds become available to replace it, but when that might happen remains uncertain.
“It is all contingent on bonding funds,” Brunkhorst said.