Butte County proceeds with Winkler Rd. Bridge replacement

The Winkler Road Bridge, pictured here, was closed in 2014 due to unsafe conditions and will soon be replaced with a single-span structure to create a detour around the Orman Road Bridge, which the county expects to close in the coming weeks. Pioneer photo by Lacey Peterson

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BUTTE COUNTY –– The Butte County Commission Tuesday authorized its highway department to proceed with the replacement of the Winkler Road Bridge in an effort to have a detour in place prior to the imminent closure of the Orman Road Bridge. 

Following the July 29 and 30 public meetings related to the county’s recent hike in wheel and property taxes due to an overwhelming need for road and bridge funding, the county is working to move forward on a detour as soon as possible. Commission Chairman Kim Richards said that when residents complained about the rise in taxes during the Newell meeting on July 30, a member of the local ambulance crew stood up and advised that because the Orman Road Bridge has a posted gross weight limit of four tons, an ambulance responding to an emergency in the area would require a detour, adding about a half hour longer, or more, to respond. That could mean the difference between life and death for a person with sudden cardiac arrest or another major health event. Richards said that comment turned the tide of crowd opinion.

Worsened by May snow and rain, the Orman Road Bridge, which spans Horse Creek west of Newell, was selected by Butte County to apply for federal bridge funds. The bridge was one of four Northern Hills bridges, a partnership between Butte, Lawrence, and Meade counties, identified for federal consideration. Due to the government shutdown from Dec. 22, 2018, to Jan. 25, the funding decisions have not yet been made.

Jason Hanson, with Brosz Engineering, the county’s contracted engineering firm, told county commissioners Tuesday that the bridge’s worsening condition may require the county to make some tough choices in the very near future.

The 66-foot-long structure was reduced to one-lane traffic recently following flash flooding that washed out part of the deck of the bridge, leaving several large holes in the roadway.

The bridge in question is located on a main farm to market road connecting that area of the county to Newell, heightening the commission’s concern related to its potential future closure.

Hanson presented to the commission a plan for how to create a detour for the imminent closure. 

In 2014, the Winkler Road Bridge was closed due to unsafe conditions. Hanson said that while the county waits to hear if the Orman Road Bridge will be funded by the federal government, replacing the Winkler Road Bridge would be a suitable detour, creating an approximately three mile diversion. 

He suggested the county either replace the structure with box culverts or with a single-span structure. 

“Doing something at Winkler will get you a permanent crossing,” Hanson said, as opposed to a low water or other type of more temporary crossing.

For the box culvert option, Hanson said, the project would run approximately $160,000 to $170,000. For a new single-span bridge, he estimated between $125,000 to $140,000. To keep the cost around that range, he said that the county highway department would need to perform as much of the work to build the structure as possible. 

Hanson said that he did not recommend the culvert option for this specific structure due to the amount of debris and ice floe that the 15-foot channel and structure endures each year. Additionally, the single-span bridge option would be cheaper on the county’s budget. 

Due to the potential closure of the Orman Road Bridge, he said, he hopes the work could start as soon as October.

The commission unanimously voted to move forward with a single-span bridge structure as soon as possible.

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