The Nevada Department of Transportation recently proclaimed the state’s 2,000 bridges were ranked once again as among the best in the nation with 1.4 percent rated structurally deficient. The average for other states was 7 percent of public bridges were rated as structurally deficient.
The press release may leave Pershing County leaders asking when NDOT will replace the 90-year-old, structurally-deficient G-29 bridge north of Lovelock, as promised years ago. The bridge spans Union Pacific railroad tracks and was originally set for demolition and not replacement. But, county leaders objected because the structure provides access to farms, ranches and could be needed for possible construction of a proposed data center.
Year after year, NDOT has told county leaders that the G-29 bridge replacement is on the horizon but each year the project is delayed. NDOT has said the holdup is due to Union Pacific. Unlike other bridges, the railroad must approve the new design before the state can build it.
Last week, NDOT PIO Meg Ragonese said the G-29 railroad bridge replacement is still on track for 2023 after UPRR approved the preliminary design for the new structure. This year, NDOT will develop intermediate and final designs for review and approval by UP, she said.
“We anticipate beginning construction to replace the bridge in 2023, dependent on those final design approvals as well as funding availability, right-of-way acquisition for temporary construction access, and lease agreement proceedings,” she said. “The schedule will also remain contingent on the timeframe of receiving temporary construction easements for construction on railroad property.”
The G-29 bridge gets a technical inspection every six months, Ragonese said. Although the bridge is showing its age, the “major supporting elements” have been evaluated and are still considered safe. But, a 14 ton weight limit for vehicles using the bridge remains in place.
In May 2016, NDOT told county officials the G-29 bridge had scored so low, it was not safe and could not be rehabilitated. The agency planned to tear down the bridge and close the road but, after local protests, decided to replace the bridge when transportation funds were available.
“We can’t allow you to keep that bridge but we’ve decided to build you a new one,” NDOT Deputy Director Bill Hoffman said. “We understand how important this bridge is for emergency access such as during wildland fires. The bridge is already load posted so we need to keep a close eye on that. If it starts degrading to the point where we have to shut off traffic, we’ll work with you on that. We don’t have the money to rebuild that bridge for the next few years.”
In 2018, Hoffman said it was challenging to get Union Pacific to approve a new G-9 bridge.
“We’ve been working our tails off to get that designed,” he said. “I will say that it’s very tricky working with UPR and trying to get these new bridge designs through their review process.”
According to a March, 2018 bridge inspection listed on www.bridgereport.com, the overall condition of the G-29 bridge was “poor” and the structural appraisal was “basically intolerable requiring high priority of corrective action.” The report recommended “replacement of the bridge because of substandard load carrying capacity or substantial bridge roadway geometry.”
In 2020, NDOT officials said the G-29 bridge was still considered safe enough for vehicles up to 14 tons and had passed their safety inspections for that weight limit every six months.
“While the bridge is in aged condition, the major supporting elements are routinely inspected and have been evaluated to currently be safe,” NDOT said. “With no structural elements requiring urgent corrective action, we want to keep the bridge open to traffic as long as it remains safe until we finalize a replacement structure.”
Last week, NDOT explained that old bridges can still be safe despite structural deterioration.
“Structurally deficient bridges are not necessarily unsafe or dangerous. Rather, these bridges become a priority for corrective measures and may be posted to restrict the weight of vehicles using them.”
In January, 2019, NDOT officials said the G-29 bridge could be replaced in 2020.
“We are currently on schedule to replace the State Route 396/Upper Valley Road bridge over Union Pacific railroad tracks next year,” Ragonese said. “We are right now refining engineering designs for the new bridge in collaboration with the Union Pacific Railroad.”
In December, 2020, NDOT told county officials the project could happen in 2023 at a cost of $3,200,000. The Pershing County Commission rejected the NDOT work plan for Pershing County because it did not give top priority to the G-29 bridge replacement project.
In 2021, NDOT replaced a nearby bridge on Upper Valley Road that crosses the Humboldt River. Built in 1918, it was the oldest public bridge in the state but it was clogging the river.
“The original bridge had 56 pier supports in the river, which can accumulate debris and restrict water flow,” Ragonese said. “The new bridge has only six piers, enhancing river flow and reducing the potential of flooding.”