Bigfork is known as one of the top tourist destinations in northwestern Montana while being a quaint but busy hometown to many. The local charm of the community is recognized throughout the state. One of the key reasons for this distinction is the iconic bridge connecting the downtown area to Highway 35. In the coming years, the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) will be replacing the existing Bridge Street structure with a similar one-lane bridge over the Swan River.
Through early public outreach and area studies, MDT has been told time and again how important this facility is to the community and how essential it is to retain as much of the original character as possible. As a result, MDT will continue moving forward with a bridge replacement that maintains a similar aesthetic to the existing structure.
The new bridge will be approximately the same length as the current 120 foot structure and will be made of steel.
The Bridge Street Bridge not only carries traffic but a sense of community pride. Because construction is tentatively scheduled for 2024, there continues to be ample time for residents to share their feedback with MDT and consultants. Our goal is to keep those in the community exceptionally well-informed as we move closer to the day when Bigfork has a new bridge.
Project Study & Current Condition
Flathead County and MDT completed a feasibility study of the truss bridge over the Swan River in Bigfork, Montana. Opened in 1912, the bridge with its separate walkway is currently experiencing corrosion and other deterioration that will limit its future use. The study identified bridge and community needs and considered options to repair, replace or rehabilitate the bridge. We heard residents loud and clear as they voiced their concerns regarding the historic appearance and the continued use of the one-lane bridge.
The recommendation for replacement of the historic bridge with a new steel truss bridge carrying a single travel lane and a walkway has been forwarded to Flathead County for their action as the owner of the bridge.
The bridge provides one of two river crossings between the Bigfork Dam and Flathead Lake and serves downtown Bigfork. The current 3-ton weight limit is due to its age, corrosion and other issues. Without repairs, the load capacity will continue to decrease, and the bridge will ultimately fail or need to be closed. The bridge, owned and maintained by the County, also requires special maintenance. Currently, Flathead County crews cannot use regular large equipment to clear the structure of snow. Snow is removed with a small truck and a walk-behind slow blower. Once construction has been completed, Flathead County will be able to better perform regular maintenance on the bridge.
While many elements that give this bridge its historic charm will remain in the new design, many safety benefits will be incorporated. This will be accomplished in two ways.
The current bridge is old and cannot handle large and heavy loads. As such, truck drivers and emergency response vehicles currently have to route around the bridge. After construction, the new structure will be able to accommodate fire trucks and ambulances; providing immeasurable safety benefits for the community by allowing these responders to have a second access point to downtown Bigfork.
Secondly, the updated bridge will provide a sidewalk to meet modern accessibility or Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.
The location of the bridge will not change, and minimal road work will be needed to tie the existing roadway into the new bridge.
Bigfork Bridge History
The existing bridge was built in 1911 by the American Bridge Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota. A pedestrian walkway outside the truss on the upstream side was added at an unknown time.
This bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).