Fall River County residents residing off of old Highway 18 are getting impatient with the lack of progress on the Chilson Bridge. The bridge spans over the Mickelson Trail and was deemed unsafe during an annual inspection when concrete from the bridge was found on the trail below. It has been impassable for several months.
Prior to the bridge’s closure, Old Highway 18 was the most efficient connection to Hot Springs for residents residing on the highway south of the bridge and on Rocky Ford Road.
Residents were primarily concerned with safety issues at last Tuesday’s meeting. They were uneasy about emergency vehicle access to the area as well as possible evacuation routes in the case of forest fires.
“The reality is, if there is a fire on Old 18 between here and Edgemont, we are stuck," said Rock Ford resident Jennifer Jones.
Rocky Ford Road does offer a possible escape route. As its name suggests, there is a ford which crosses the Cheyenne River. After the crossing, a dirt road ultimately connects with Highway 71.
Practically, this journey could prove difficult. The river must be low enough to drive across, the clay soil east of the river must be dry enough to climb the steep embankment and a driver may need some knowledge of the ford to avoid stranding a vehicle in the river. Making this trip with a livestock trailer in the event of an evacuation further complicates the trek and could prove impossible.
Commissioner Joe Faulkenberg stated all county residents have a right to safe roads. He said there had previously been a verbal agreement with the state to rebuild the bridge, however the state didn’t continue the project upon further consideration.
Moving forward, Faulkenberg sees the most likely solution being an at-grade crossing. It’s potentially the cheapest remedy and can move forward as soon as an agreement is struck with the state. The next step will be to buy the land. Faulkenberg says a negotiator sent by the state will come and negotiate with local landowners.
According to Commissioner Paul Nabholz, it’s possible Fall River County already owns land for a at-grade crossing. Based on his research of archived material, Nabholz contended Old Highway 18’s original path in the 1920s might have been 300 feet to the south of its current path. If this is the case, Fall River County may own an easement for the original road.
Nabholz also stated he has yet to locate the plat for the original easement. Commissioner Joe Allen pointed out, any dispute over land ownership may lead to a lengthy court battle, leaving residents with no solution for years.
In other happenings, the commissioners approved the purchase of three new signs for the county from Mammoth Signs. The county is looking into installing new electronic locks for building security. The county also made a new agreement with Golden West to increase court house internet speed from 15Mbps to 25Mbps while dropping the monthly payment from $1,277 to $895.