Rush Lake Bridge is falling down
Falling down... falling down...
When this local landmark comes crashing down at the end of the summer, its fall will mark the end of an era. The bridge, which is being removed by the Otter Tail County Highway Department, has been a popular swimming spot for generations of local teenagers.
The decision to tear down the steel truss bridge on Rush Lake Loop was made a few years ago, according to Chuck Grotte, Assistant County Engineer with the Otter Tail County Highway Department. Grotte said the actual request to tear down the bridge came from Rush Lake Township.
"We basically are acting on their behalf," he explained.
When the Otter Tail County Highway Department performs their annual bridge inspections, the Rush Lake Bridge was discovered to have a low structural sufficiency rating. It was determined that the bridge either needed to be replaced or removed.
"It had a 26.9 sufficiency rating [out of 100]," revealed Grotte. This sufficiency rating takes into consideration factors such as deterioration on the bridge.
The bridge itself was built in 1920, and was once a part of the old Highway 78. Once the highway was moved slightly to the west, the old bridge was left in place with the new highway bridge built parallel to the old one.
According to Grotte, the average sufficiency rating for a bridge in Otter Tail County is in the 80's. "We have a lot of bridges that are in the 90's and 80's. I don't know that we had too many that were less than this one," he said, adding, "it was probably one of the lowest ones in the county."
As far as Grotte is aware, this is the first bridge the county has torn down that they will not be replacing. Because the bridge is no longer a part of Highway 78, it is no longer a necessary thoroughfare. Instead of the side road's past connection with a bridge, the road will simply end on either side of the water.
Although Grotte admits that the Rush Lake Bridge was probably one of the worst bridges in the county--as far as sufficiency ratings go--there are other factors that may have played a role in the township's ultimate decision not to rebuild the structure. With people consistently jumping off the old bridge, the township could have faced some serious liability issues in the event that someone got hurt.
"Kids like to jump off the truss bridges," acknowledged Grotte. "The more modern, low-rail bridges are just not that exciting."
The removal of the old bridge has caused some concern among locals that the kids who used to jump off the now-demolished bridge will try their luck on the highway bridge instead. This type of activity would prove far more dangerous, due to heavy traffic flow and an extremely narrow space between the bridge's edge and the traffic lanes.
If a problem does materialize with groups jumping off the highway bridge, Grotte said that would be the responsibility of the state highway department. They would be the ones who would address the issue, possibly through the posting of signs warning people of the hazards of jumping.
In addition to the bridge removal, the Otter Tail County Highway Department is working with the Department of Natural Resources to build a parking lot on the north side of the old bridge, and will also be putting in a cul-de-sac.
The parking lot will be located in a current open lot, adjacent to the small lake access. Once this project is complete, the lake access area will be significantly larger--providing more space for people to park their vehicles and trailers while boating on Rush Lake. The completion date for the entire project has been set for October 31.
The DNR is paying for a portion of the work being done at the Rush Lake site, where the public access is being expanded. The State Department of Transportation also provided funds for the project.
Otter Tail County Highway Department has hired a contractor--Lakes Paving, Detroit Lakes--to manage the project.
For many, the dismantling of the bridge symbolizes more than just the end of the summer swimming season; it draws an end to an era of fun-filled summers jumping off what has become a lakes area icon.
"The bridge was a popular swim-platform for local youths and vacationing kids to jump into the Otter Tail River," reflects Ottertail area resident Dave Oien. "It is sad to see it go."