Missouri River bridge project plans progress

Missouri River bridge project plans progress by David Lias The planning phase of the Newcastle, NE/Vermillion bridge over the Missouri River is proceeding on schedule, according to Randy Harper of the Vermillion Development Company.

Harper gave members of the Clay County Commission an update on the project�s progress, and requested funding for a ground-breaking ceremony that will be scheduled in the near future.

�The Missouri River bridge project is progressing nicely,� Harper said. �We�re looking at a January bid letting.�

Harper said that, at this point, it appears that needed land acquisition for the project will be completed in time for the January bid letting.

Several officials from South Dakota and Nebraska, including Harper and Dr. James Green of Vermillion, who serves as co-chairman of the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge Committee, traveled to Pierre Aug. 5 to meet with South Dakota Department of Transportation officials.

The purpose of the meeting was to obtain an updated schedule for bid letting and construction, determine the status of right-of-way acquisition and determine if any problems remain.

The schedule for bid letting is still subject to change. But if all goes as planned, bids for the bridge and the South Dakota approach will be opened Jan. 19. Bids for the Nebraska approach will be opened Dec. 2.

At that meeting, it was determined that right-of-way land acquisition has been resolved for the South Dakota approach to the new bridge. The Nebraska Department of Roads is negotiating for five of six needed parcels. One parcel will likely be condemned.

�We are meeting with one last landowner � (the Department of) Game, Fish and Parks,� Harper told the county commission. �They are meeting with the DOT right now, and they are going through with the mitigation that needs to take place.�

Bank stabilization was discussed at length at the Pierre meeting. Harper will assist in initiating a request for U.S. Corps of Engineer funds when the South Dakota right-of-way can be certified.

�In September and October and in November, the federal highway department has to approve the design and engineering, and that takes place in Washington. That process takes from 30 to 90 days, so that�s going to slow us down a bit,� Harper said. �But the January bid letting will not delay the completion of the bridge.�

He said a general contractor will be hired to oversee all aspects of the bridge�s construction. Certified contractors will be selected in early October to bid on the more specific types of construction for the project.

�We want to take a look at the experience and the qualifications of the companies to determine which ones are capable,� Harper said.

The project, which will take two to three years to complete, includes 5.2 miles of a new approach road in South Dakota, as well as a bridge over the Vermillion River, the Missouri River span, about 3.5 miles of approach on the Nebraska side and riverbank stabilization there.

The proposed route to the new bridge will take drivers south of Gateway on Highway 19 in Vermillion, west of Bunyans, down the bluff, over the Vermillion River and railroad, and on to the new bridge. The crossing will be at Mulberry Point, where the Missouri River narrows to less than 815 feet.

In June 1998, South Dakota agreed to pay 100 percent of the construction costs for one of the connecting roads to the Missouri River bridge. The business route, 1.2 miles in length, will connect the new bridge road to the airport road which turns into Dakota Street. The proposed alignment would provide access to both upper and lower Vermillion, from Timber Road to the west to Dakota Street on the east. In addition, a new Vermillion River crossing would be built at the Dawson Bridge site.

Clay County agreed in June 1998 to construct a truck route connecting the new bridge road to Dawson Bridge.Since the inception of the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge project, nine alignments, or access routes, to the bridge from Vermillion have been considered. The accepted alignment will connect the bridge road to Highway 50 near the Timber Road intersection directly west of Vermillion, as well as connect Dakota Street on down to the Missouri River bridge.

In total, the price tag of the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge is estimated at $23 million. Eighty percent of that comes from federal funds, with South Dakota and Nebraska splitting the remaining 20 percent. Included in the cost have been the numerous studies conducted — from feasibility to the environmental and economical impact of the structure.

Allocations of the federal funds have come over a period of several years, with support from congressional delegations throughout the years from both states. The Newcastle-Vermillion Bridge Committee also raised thousands of dollars locally to help fund the initial feasibility study.

The economic benefits of the bridge have long been part of its construction plans.

�Many people are looking upon the construction of this bridge as a gateway to new business opportunities,� Harper told the Plain Talk in a news story last year. �Locally, Vermillion has existed and survived with a retail trade zone of a half-circle. The bridge will give us a full circle. It will open up the route to Vermillion for 16,000 people living in the two Nebraska counties directly south of us. Not all of them will come here to shop, but some of them will. And if we get 15 to 20 percent sales growth, that will maintain what we have and help attract new stores and services we�re currently missing. The bridge will also tap into a new labor market from Nebraska.�

Harper told the commission Tuesday that Nebraska officials associated with the bridge project have contacted the governing bodies of Dixon County and Newcastle for funding for a groundbreaking ceremony that will be held in the near future on the South Dakota side of the project.

Dixon County agreed to contribute $2,500 and the city of Newcastle is pitching in $1,000.

The Clay County Commission also agreed to allocate $2,500 for the ceremony. The funds will come from the county�s industrial development budget.

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