Need to get over troubled waters? Have a homeless troll hanging around? Maybe your last one burned behind you. Whatever you may need a bridge for, Washakie County in north-central Wyoming has you covered.
It’s selling a century-old bridge that’s outlived its usefulness.
The Winchester Bridge, which has spanned Cottonwood Creek on Winchester Road (County Road 86) since its construction nearly 100 years ago, was deemed unsafe in a recent Wyoming Department of Transportation inspection.
Rather than haul it off to the scrap pile, Washakie County commissioners are offering it to the highest bidder.
“From the county perspective, we either had to look at taking it to the foundry or look at finding a way to dispose of it,” said Washakie County Commissioner Aaron Anderson.
The county’s first move was to offer the historic bridge near the settlement of Winchester to the Washakie County Museum, but that fell through last month when it was determined that the bridge’s lead paint would create a public health hazard.
“The realities of the size of the bridge and the potential of having lead paint and that sort of thing on it were a little bit more than they wanted to take on,” said Anderson. “The structure was still in pretty good shape, and once all the weight of the concrete deck was removed off of it, we decided that we were going to look into putting the bridge up for bid.”
Anderson said the determination to replace the 90-foot by 24-foot bridge in the southern part of Washakie County was part of the federal Bridge Replacement Off System designed to reduce the number of deficient bridges in the United States.
The county estimates the new bridge will cost $1.8 million.
“That bridge, as it was set, was determined by (WYDOT) that it wasn’t adequate for that county road,” said Anderson, adding that the county had lowered the weight limit of the bridge two years ago and to a single lane of traffic.
Stefanie Kowalczyk, curator of the Washakie County Museum, said the footprint for the bridge is relatively small, abutting private property and the railroad right of way.
“It just can’t support the weight of modern farm equipment and modern vehicles,” she said.
Kowalczyk said that prior to her arrival at the museum, the county had signed a memorandum of understanding that the bridge would be transferred to her organization.
“When it came time to actually start talking about that in a little bit more depth, we found out that the bridge has some lead paint on it,” she said, so the museum board opted not to take it.
“So now we’re kind of back at square one, trying to figure out what we might like to do with it,” said Kowalczyk.
She said one of the options available to the county is to sell it to a private landowner.
“They could use it to move cattle or farm equipment, or just cross a flooded area on their property,” said Kowalczyk.
How Do You Sell A Bridge?
Anderson said scraping the lead paint off the bridge would cost the county an estimated $86,000, and taking the bridge to a foundry to be disposed of would cost around $29,000.
“So we’re just hoping that somebody can utilize it,” he said. “But we can’t just give it to somebody, we have to put it out there for bids so that anybody that wants it has the opportunity to purchase it.”
So, how do you sell a bridge?
“We will just take an ad out in the local newspaper for sealed bids on the bridge,” said Anderson, “with the understanding that they’ll be responsible to get it moved within a certain frame of time, and that sort of thing.”
But who would buy an entire bridge?
“I’d buy it for a dollar,” joked Worland resident Jay Richard. “I’d put it on my oceanfront property down in Arizona.”
On a serious note, Richard said it could be useful for rural ranchers.
“I have a friend of mine that lives about 2 miles from there who inquired,” he said. “And he says he’s got a draw that would work really well on.”
Replacing The Winchester Bridge
Moving an object of that size is a big job, Anderson admitted, saying that the county has been in conversations with a local oil field servicing company that has the equipment to haul off the Winchester bridge.
But he added that opportunities like this aren’t unusual in Wyoming.
“There’s quite a few places where (WYDOT) has taken bridges and taken them to museums and that sort of thing,” said Anderson, who added that the Winchester bridge has already been moved off its abutments and out of the right of way.
“I think they’re actually going to have to move it again to a staging area to get it out of the way for some of the construction of the new bridge,” he said.
Anderson said the new bridge will be in the exact same location.
“So the contractor had to go in and tear out all the original abutments and are driving pilings and and putting the structure in under for the new bridge,” he said.
Federal money will pay for most the replacement of the Winchester bridge, said Anderson.
“Generally, 90% comes from the federal funds of WYDOT, and 10% from the county,” he said.
National Register Of Historic Places
Kowalczyk said she believes the bridge needs to be preserved in some way.
“It is eligible for the National Register (of Historic Places),” Kowalczyk told Cowboy State Daily, “so you want to mitigate the damage to the property as best as you can, because the bridge has to be moved.”
Kowalczyk said the bridge meets two of the criteria to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places: first, the bridge was integral in moving traffic along the Yellowstone Highway.
“Prior to all of the irrigation canals being put in, Cottonwood Creek looked a lot different than what it looks like now,” she said. “And it was a lot more difficult to cross without a reliable bridge being there. It was really muddy, you would lose tires, and sometimes you just wouldn’t be able to cross, you’d have to just wait for the water to go down a little bit.”
Additionally, Kowalczyk said, the bridge is remarkable for its architecture.
“It’s just a good example of what is called a ‘Warren pony truss’ bridge, with vertical supports,” she added, referencing a style of bridge construction distinguished by equal-sized beams and the ability of some of the diagonals to act in both tension and compression.
But for residents like Richard, all the hubbub about a 90-foot-long bridge in the middle of rural Washakie County has him scratching his head.
“I live 5 miles from the thing, and I’ve never thought of it as a historical anything,” he said. “You know, it’s an old bridge, they’re all over the place. But it is what it is, I guess.”