The historic Brickmine Bridge located in the northeast corner of Cavalier County along a township road in Fremont Township is undergoing some needed restoration courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota and the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT).
By Melissa Anderson
Lorna Meidinger, Architectural Historian with the State Historical Society, explained that what makes the Brickmine Bridge unique in North Dakota is the type of bridge it is.
“The Brickmine Bridge is a riveted Warren Through truss bridge and that is not a common type in North Dakota so it is a rare example,” Meidinger said.
A Warren truss bridge is a bridge that is a relatively light but strong and economical to build. It was ideal for a rural area such as Cavalier County in the early 1900s and its primary users during that time, Mayo Brick and Tile Co., known locally as just “the Brickmine”.
“The connection to the old Brickmine provides a rich context for why the bridge was built,” Meidinger explained.
Truss bridges were used and popular during the era because they are a very rigid structure that transfers the load from a single point to a much wider area. While there is no exact build date for the bridge, it was contracted by the Fargo Bridge and Iron Company in April of 1905 to be built for a whopping $4,220. In today’s dollars, the cost of building this specific bridge is over $114,000. The bridge, according to Cavalier County Republican archives, was completed in early 1906.
“North Dakota is losing its historic bridges as they age and are replaced by new structures. When we (the NDDOT) have the opportunity to partner with a local agency (like a city or county) and rehabilitate an historic bridge, we explore the possibility of rehabilitating the historic bridge so it can continue to serve its transportation role,” Robert Christensen, Cultural Resource Section Leader at NDDOT, said.
The NDDOT selected the Brickmine Bridge as a candidate for restoration based on five criteria: local agency interests in rehabilitating the historic bridge, the bridge can remain in service in a transportation role, rehabilitate historic bridges from different regions in the state, bridge was a good candidate structurally (not too damaged, rusted, etc.), and the NDDOT can rehabilitate the bridge and not adversely impact its historic nature.
The NDDOT periodically reviews good candidate bridges for their Historic Bridge Rehabilitation Program. While they do not have a regular schedule for such projects, they are initiated when there is a good candidate structure, local support for the project, and funding to complete the project.
“Currently we have this project and another historic bridge rehabilitation project in Velva City Park,” Christensen stated.
While the restoration of the Brickmine Bridge is a NDDOT initiated and funded project, the NDDOT and the State Historical Society are used to partnering on projects, as they do so on many roadway and bridge projects throughout the year.
“When an opportunity to work together on these special projects occurs, we enjoy partnering and developing win-win solutions,” Christensen said, ”By rehabilitating the bridge, it will retain its historic integrity and will remain in service for many decades.”
The NDDOT began working with Cavalier County on planning the restoration project in 2015. Over the next few years, the bridge was reviewed by the NDDOT and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), a sub-office within the State Historical Society that works with historic preservation and the applicable state and federal preservation laws. The office puts projects through what is called the Section 106 review process [Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act]. The SHPO reviews proposals for projects to determine the effect on historic resources. For this particular project, the goal is to restore the bridge and maintain a “No Adverse Effect” determination for the bridge.
“Basically, a project is proposed, and we evaluate the effect on a historic property,” Meidinger explained.
In this case, engineers looked at structural needs and then both NDDOT and SHPO looked at all the options for things that need replaced rather than being repaired. SHPO use the Secretary of Interiors Standards for Rehabilitation to evaluate the proposed work and then work with the lead agency to find the best path for completing the project and protecting the historic property.
“We have worked closely with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, both with their compliance officer and their architectural historian, to ensure we will preserve the bridge’s historical integrity,” Christensen said.
Meidinger and Christensen explained that what is possible to be repaired will be repaired and parts that need replacing will be replaced either in-kind or with a sensitive design and materials to minimize the loss of historic integrity of the bridge.
“The engineers look at each piece of the bridge to make determinations of repair or replacement. Replacement in-kind is acceptable when repair is not possible but if something needs to change for the new part, then we go over available options to make the best choice. There will also be signage to talk about the historic bridge,” Meidinger said.
“We are planning to remove the bridge from its foundation, sandblast it and repair any damaged members in the truss, repaint the truss, replace the foundation with new piers and abutments, and reset the bridge on the new foundation,” Christensen explained.
Projects of this undertaking are becoming more unlikely as Christensen explained that it is pretty rare to find a really good candidate bridge for historic preservation.
“Many bridges are replaced with new structures because they are too narrow, not enough vertical clearance, or are not strong enough to accommodate modern traffic such as semis, farm equipment and school busses,” Christensen said.
More often old bridges are simply replaced with box culverts or stringer bridges. Christensen noted that many historic bridges are damaged to such an extent that it is difficult or impossible to repair them and still have them retain their historic integrity.
“We are always on the lookout for good candidates for our Historic Bridge Rehabilitation Program,” Christensen stated.
Funding for these types of projects come from the NDDOT by means of federal and state funds. Local public agency will be responsible for the approach roadways and maintenance of the restored structure. In the meantime, the restoration process has been put in the hands of Industrial Builders, Inc. from West Fargo. The company, which started in 1953, has a long history of working on projects such as this.
“Industrial Builders, Inc. has a lot of experience building structures that people care about, and we have experience with steel bridge restoration and the major aspects of this job interested us because they included a lot of the components on jobs we’ve built successfully in the past,” Brittany Diederich, Assistant Project Manager at Industrial Builders, Inc., said.
“Our company takes a lot of pride in successfully completed projects, and we believe that once this one is done, it will be very satisfying to see the bridge restored for both us and the community,” Diederich added.
The restoration project is already underway, with the bridge being lifted by crane from its place on the Pembina River to a nearby field where the work on the structure will be completed. A lot of work has already been done to the base of the bridge.
“The spring flood is occurring right now so we suspended construction; prior to the flood, we had nearly completed pile driving operations. We intend to re-mobilize to the site in late April/early May, dependent on conditions, to resume and complete the project,” Diederich stated.
As Industrial Builders, Inc. began working on the bridge, they made special efforts to insure the structure of the bridge remained intact by removing the stringers and deck planks.
“Swinging a fully assembled bridge with a crane is a bit unusual but very cool to see,” Diederich said.
The construction team will be reconstructing/re-painting the bridge in the field and then swinging it back in place. The base will be all new.
“We are replacing pieces as necessary in the superstructure but keeping as much of the historic steel intact though it will be sandblasted and repainted and look much fresher. Coordinating the new parts with the old makes this an interesting project with a lot of moving parts,” Diederich explained.
The construction and rehabilitation of the bridge will continue through the summer and fall with the NDDOT and Industrial Builders projecting the revitalized bridge to be reset and open for traffic by 2018.