Bridge opens after 20-year struggle

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DOVER - It was a big day for Dover on Friday.

Gov. Butch Otter and a clutch of other dignitaries gathered beneath the new Dover Bridge to dedicate the long-awaited and badly-needed span on U.S. Highway 2.

City officials and local lawmakers have been pushing for replacement of the dilapidated 75-year-old bridge for nearly two decades.

Idaho Transportation Department Deputy Director Scott Stokes recalled meeting with former Councilwoman Maggie Becker in former Mayor Loretta Boyle's kitchen to discuss replacement of the wizened span.

A new bridge was eventually designed, but the state lacked the funds to build it in the foreseeable future. The bridge would go on to receive one of the lowest sufficiency ratings in the state and became the poster child for the nation's crumbling infrastructure. It was highlighted in Popular Mechanics and a History Channel program.

"We did everything we could to push it from our side," said Mayor Randy Curless.

Former Councilman Jim Janish ceremoniously dumped a chunk of concrete that broke off the bridge onto a table at an Idaho Transportation Board meeting to underscore the sorry state of the span.

"That was pretty significant," said state Rep. George Eskridge. "It kind of got everybody's attention."

But funding remained frustratingly elusive until 2009, when Otter made it the top-priority project submitted for funding under the federal American Recovery & Reinvestment Act.

"Gov. Otter has taught us a lot on growing Idaho's economy and the importance of the transportation infrastructure. If we're going to grow and if we're going to be competitive, we can't be running into bottleneck bridges with height and weight restrictions," Stokes said.

Transportation board member Jim Coleman said the board was well aware of the need for a new bridge and was not squeamish about accepting federal stimulus dollars.

"We were going to use them because they were there," said Coleman.

Building the bridge was expected to be a cinch compared to the Sand Creek Byway, although it proved to be anything but. The headaches included delayed delivery of massive steel girders, a stubborn rocky hillside and piling that would not bite properly.

"It was a very unique project for us," said Don Charters of lead contractor Sletten Construction Co., adding that workers had to contend with locomotive traffic that coursed through the construction site.

If not for Dover's dogged persistence, the foresight of ITD to design a project with no funding and the ARRA money, Eskridge doubts the project would have become a reality.

Eskridge recalled that some had even suggested at one point that there wasn't enough traffic on U.S. 2 to justify a new bridge. The sound of traffic streaming over the bridge during the dedication ceremony indicated otherwise, he said.

Otter agreed that tenacity and preparedness kept the project alive.

"It's a great day because a lot of people were tenacious," he said. "We're standing here today because we were ready."

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