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Kevin Bonham, Published July 22 2009

New Drayton, N.D., bridge will be second longest one in North Dakota

DRAYTON, N.D. — Like the crack of a high-powered rifle being fired, the sound of metal on metal is almost nonstop at the site of a new bridge being built along North Dakota Highway 66 that will cross the Red River of the North into Minnesota.

Each round ends with the echo of a large church bell, fading in the wind.

Forty-four times a minute. One barely drifts off before another one sends a shrill sound through the air.

These 75-foot-long steel I-beams are being pile driven into the ground — at a rate of one every 30 to 40 minutes — by a monster hammer atop a 165-ton crane. They’re being welded together to reach a depth of 100 to 250 feet, an average of 168 feet deep.

When finished, the pilings will anchor 36 concrete piers that will support the deck of a 4,090-foot highway bridge from Drayton to the ghost town of Robbin, Minn., and Minnesota Highway 11, which continues to the communities of Donaldson and Karlstad, Minn.

It will be North Dakota’s second-longest bridge, about 400 feet shorter than the Four Bears Bridge over the Missouri River on state Highway 23 near New Town on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

The pounding started in February, when the $30 million construction project began. But it was silenced for more than two months this spring because of the flooding Red River. It resumed about a month ago.

“Once the river comes up, we’re pretty much at a standstill,” said Dewey Lauersdorf, the foreman of this crew from contractor Lunda Construction Co., based in Black River Falls, Wis.

The flood not only delayed the project, it did considerable damage to concrete piers and the beams used in forms used to make the piers.

One of the piers will have to be rebuilt.

“It turned one of the red beams into the shape of a horseshoe,” Lauersdorf said.

Contractors are working with state transportation departments in Minnesota and North Dakota to adjust the project schedule to allow for the flood delay. Under the current contract, construction is slated to be completed by late 2010, with demolition of the old bridge in 2011.

The piling and pier construction is nearing the North Dakota side of the Red River. Then, crews will build cofferdams in the river to support the mammoth crane as it pile drives the beams 250 feet into the riverbed.

On the Minnesota side of the river, Kittson County Road 18, which runs along the river, will be relocated a short distance to the east, where it will meet state Highway 11 at the east end of the bridge.

The present 54-year-old, 1,056-foot-long bridge will remain open until the new bridge is open.

About 2,000 vehicles use the Drayton bridge daily, said Les Noehr, engineer for the Grand Forks District of the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

At harvest, more heavy equipment, including combines and semi-trailers full of grain and beets, use the bridge.

The bridge is being replaced not because it flooded but because the land around the bridge is susceptible to flooding.

The Drayton bridge is one of five bridges across the Red River north of Grand Forks; 11 miles south of Drayton is the bridge on North Dakota Highway 17, east of Grafton, N.D.; 16 miles north is the bridge on North Dakota Highway 5, just south of Joliette that crosses to Minnesota Highway 175 to Hallock, Minn.

There also are bridges at Oslo, Minn., and Pembina, N.D., at the Canadian border.

While the present Drayton Bridge is considered to be structurally sound and not threatened by floodwaters, it is inaccessible during floods because of low ground on the approach on the North Dakota side of the river, Noehr said.

Officials in both states have been discussing plans to replace the bridge since shortly after the 1997 flood.

Since the 1997 flood, the bridge has closed four times because of flooding: in 1999, it was closed for 21 days; in 2002, for 27 days; in 2004, for eight days; and in 2006, it closed for 22 days, according to NDDOT.

During floods, people who cross the Drayton Bridge often have to detour more than 60 or 70 miles, either to Pembina or south to Oslo.

The new bridge, while being only about 1 foot higher, will extend well beyond the low ground on the North Dakota side, which will make it accessible even at Drayton‘s 1997 record flood elevation of 45.55 feet.

When finished, the new bridge will contain:

- 11,123 cubic yards of concrete.

- 1,520,199 pounds of reinforcing steel.

- 2,774,000 pounds of structural steel.

- 79,900 linear feet of steel pilings.

“That,” Lauersdorf said, “is a lot of steel.”


Drayton, N.D. bridge project


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