'Friends of the Bridge' formed to save the BNSF bridge between Bismarck and Mandan

Apr 4, 2018

Photo of the flyer for the new "Friends of the Rail Bridge" meeting in Bismarck Tuesday (4/3/18).
Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

A group has been formed to look at the potential of taking over the ownership and upkeep of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad bridge between Bismarck and Mandan.

The bridge was opened in 1883. The railroad is looking to build a new bridge, and tear the old one down.

But the group “Friends of the Rail Bridge” is hoping to save it.

"The bridge was here before statehood," said Mark Zimmerman, one of the founders of the group. "The architectural wonder of the bridge, the design and construction, was unique in its time."

Zimmerman said people should appreciate the history of that bridge. He said it tells the North Dakota story, especially of westward expansion.

"Things were at a halt here in Bismarck, until the bridge was completed," Zimmerman said. "And when that happened, for westward expansion -- away it went."

Friends of the Rail Bridge wants to convert it into a pedestrian bridge.

BNSF has said it will cost $4 million to tear it down, once a new bridge is built.

"At a meeting just about a month ago, they (BNSF) said they hadn't heard of any organization that's willing to take responsibility for the ownership of the bridge," said Susan Wefald, another founder of the group. "In other communities, instead of demolishing the bridge, BNSF would give money for an endowment to an established organization."

Wefald said the interest from the endowment could be used for maintenance and insurance, as well as other needs. She said there are no structural problems with the existing span.