Reconstructed Swinging Bridge at Browns Park dedicated
- Moffat County
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- Colorado Department of Local Affairs
- Colorado Department of Transportation
- Federal Highway Administration
- Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, Utah
- Dagget County
- Flaming Gorge Road and Transportation Special Service District
- Colorado Parks & Wildlife
- Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
- U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Little Snake Field Office
- Colorado State Land Board
- Vermillion Ranch Limited Partnership
- Dominion Energy
BROWNS PARK — Following 10 weeks of construction, the historic Swinging Bridge at Browns Park was officially rededicated Tuesday, Sept. 18, during a ceremony held at the renovated structure.
But the short construction time belies the true scope of the challenge.
Tuesday’s dedication brought to a close a more-than four year quest to restore the historic bridge, an effort that began in June 2014, when a tractor, owned by rancher and former Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson, partially broke through the bridge’s decking as its driver was attempting to cross.
The tractor’s operator was uninjured, and Dickinson, with assistance from the Moffat County Road and Bridge Department, was able to remove the tractor about a week later. But the damage left the bridge — which is located about a mile east of the Colorado-Utah border and is the only permanent crossing of the Green River in the area — impassable, effectively adding 30 miles and nearly an hour’s driving time to the trip between Colorado and Utah and vice-versa.
It also — and for several reasons — left the county in a quandary.
First, the engineering inspection of the bridge — which is required following such an accident — uncovered a number of problems unrelated to the tractor incident, drawing into question how much of the needed work could be attributed to the accident and how much was the result of unrelated maintenance issues. This also injected uncertainty into how much repairing the bridge would cost.
Second, when Moffat County Director of Development Services Roy Tipton began researching potential grant funding to help repair and refurbish the bridge, he made a troubling discovery: The structure did not belong to Moffat County; rather, it belonged to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, meaning the county was ineligible for many of the grant opportunities which would have been afforded by ownership.
In the end — and through a lot of effort — these obstacles were transformed into opportunities, and thanks to an unprecedented level of cooperation between 14 federal and state agencies, the final solution resulted in an almost entirely new bridge that essentially cost Moffat County nothing.
“None of this could happen without a lot of help from all these various agencies — and their money, of course,” Tipton said.
“When they did all that inspection work, there were some items there besides the damage from the tractor that made repairs difficult,” Tipton said. Specifically, the inspection revealed rust issues with some of the bridge’s main beams, a situation what would have to be addressed.
“In order to fix that, you have to take the whole thing apart,” he said. “So, at that point, it doesn’t make any sense to put it back together like it was.”
Given that a complete disassembly would be necessary, the county began discussing ways to improve the bridge during the repair process, and among these was the opportunity to increase the weight limit.
“One thing … (we thought) would be beneficial up there is to be able to get a wildland fire truck across that bridge,” Tipton said. “So, we started to figure out what kind of design do we need in order to accommodate a fire truck, and that’s how this design grew to being what it is now.”
As a result, the reconstructed bridge boasts a weight limit of 20 tons, as compared to the 3-ton weight limit for the old bridge.
Once the inspection had been completed, it was estimated repairing the bridge would cost about $1.9 million. Due to the fact that the structure belonged to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, rather than Moffat County, the prospect of raising this sum was problematic, and a big part of the eventual funding mechanism that repaired of the bridge originated in an unlikely spot: Utah.
Tipton said Utah’s Seven County Infrastructure Coalition — comprised of Carbon, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, San Juan, Sevier, and Uintah counties in Utah — decided to step forward and help with the funding due to the importance of the bridge to commerce in eastern Utah.
“This bridge is important to Daggett County,” Tipton said. “ So, they put up $100,000, and that’s signficant, because it’s coming from Utah.
“It seemed odd … but it is the shortcut to Vernal. You go up through Crous Canyon and down, and it’s about an hour faster than going back to Maybell and around.”
This makes the bridge vitally important to Utah commerce.
“Dominion Energy operates Clay Basin in Utah, and their guys use that to get to Vernal,” Tipton said. “That’s why they put some money into it.”
And, though $100,000 was only a small part of the needed funding, Tipton said that, once Utah stepped forward with an offer of funding, agencies in Colorado — as well as federal agencies — decided they should also contribute.
All this represented a previously unheard of level of cooperation.
“It’s not just the fact that all these people kicked in this money,” Museum of Northwest Colorado Assistant Director Paul Knowles said, “it’s the fact that this bridge was seen as important enough that all these govenrment agencies that usually don’t work together came together. … Everybody came together saying this is a crucial bridge.”
The ultimate funding arrangement included an agreement with Fish & Wildlife for Moffat County to retain right-of-way over the bridge for 50 years or “as long as the Swinging Bridge is used as a bridge, so, virtually forever,” Tipton said.
The county also established a maintenance agreement with Fish & Wildlife which states the county will be responsible for routine maintenance up to $15,000 per year, but any single repair item that comes up in excess of $5,000, Fish & Wildlife will pay for.
As for the repair costs, Moffat County contributed $100,000 — money that had already been earmarked to replace the decking on the bridge prior to the tractor incident — and $68,000 from Dickinson’s insurance settlement.
The remainder of the funds came from other Colorado and Utah agencies, as well as a $500,000 grant from the federal government.
“It’s really brought all these agencies together to cooperate and make it work, which is kind of nice,” Tipton said.
Engineering and design for the project were completed by SGM, and Mueller Construction Services, Inc. was the general contractor.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission has unanimously approved a multiyear expansion of the Public Access Program, which provides limited, seasonal hunting and fishing opportunities on Colorado trust land across the state.