Lair bridge closer to opening

FAIRMONT – The Lair Bridge channel has been open to boat traffic since May, and vehicles can soon traverse the bridge itself.

“We’re shooting for the 19th [of July] to have the road open,” said Fairmont Public Works director Troy Nemmers.

That depends, of course, on the weather. Heavy spring rains set back projects across the city. Originally, Bolton & Menk engineering firm expected the project to be completed June 28.

“It’s going to be really nice when it’s all done,” Nemmers said.

Construction began on the Lair Bridge project in September 2012, with demolition of a house to make room for the realigned road and bridge. Planning for the multi-million dollar endeavor started much, much earlier.

For years the city talked and worried about the bridge, knowing the deteriorating infrastructure needed to be replaced but dreading the cost and inconvenience of tearing up the popular Gomsrud Park and cutting off boat and street traffic.

“The deterioration was mainly in the construction of the bridge,” Nemmers explained. “The way it was put together, there was exposed steel, which began rusting, and then concrete was flaking through.

After examining several options, the solution approved by the City Council was to install a new bridge 75 feet to the north and widen the channel to allow two boats to pass. As a result, stop signs at each end of the old bridge will no longer be necessary. Instead, there will be a three-way stop at the T-intersection where Lair Road now connects with Shoreacres Drive.

Remaining work includes paving the street and new parking lot for the Channel Inn and Carstensen Cabinetry, adding sidewalks, seeding, mulching and erecting LED street lights. The contractor will paint temporary lane striping, with a final coat of asphalt to be put down in 2014.

Boaters have been enjoying the wider channel since the fishing opener, but the real test might have been over the July 4 weekend.

“We passed two pontoons on the Fourth of July under the bridge with relative ease,” Nemmers said. “… It was pretty cool to see all the boat traffic.”

Landscaping will be a lengthier ordeal. Numerous trees were cut down at Gomsrud Park to accommodate the bridge and channel work, and replanting will begin this fall. The city is considering its landscaping plans, and improvements will continue over the next couple of years.

The project’s cost is $2.4 million. The original bid was $2.2 million, with $200,000 in change orders due to unforeseen improvements needed to the channel’s west gabion wall. State bridge bonding contributed $1.2 million.