HUNGRY HORSE – There was literal dancing in the street on Tuesday as residents of Hungry Horse and the “Canyon” communities celebrate the opening of the new bridge over the South Fork of the Flathead River.
The opening of the new South Fork Bridge on US Highway 2 was a cause of celebration as it’s not only a major upgrade the highway, but also represents the end of a struggle for decades to get the old span replaced.
It was an event decades in the making, and not even some rainy, cold weather wasn’t enough to dampen the enthusiasm.
Families showed up, bike riders and walkers were on hand — and even Santa made an official appearance to give the community this long-awaited gift.
The festivities were all to mark the official opening of the new $13 million bridge west of Hungry Horse which replaces the old span that has carried millions and millions of cars over the past 80-years.
“It has served us well, but it needed to be replaced. It’s provided service, not only for the local community but millions of people have come across that bridge to visit Hungry Horse, Glacier Park, Kalispell. It has definitely paid for itself.,” Montana Department of Transportation Director Mike Tooley said.
The new bridge has features never envisioned back in the 1930s, including a full lane for pedestrians and bikes and state-of-the-art features slated to last for the next 75-years.
But the bridge — and the new highway re-alignment is all about safety too — fixing one of the most dangerous stretches of US Highway 2 in Montana.
“It reduces crash activity. The crash activity here is two-and-a-half times what it is other places in the state. So that’s important as we try to draw our fatality numbers to zero,” Tooley said.
“Glacier Park is our lifeline in Northwestern Montana and this bridge will be safe for all of us including all of our visitors,” commented Montana State Senator Dee Brown (R-Hungry Horse).
After the ribbon cutting, Sen. Brown — who won the fire department’s fundraising raffle to be the first across the bridge — gathered friends and community members on board the trolly for the celebration, punctuated by a “victory dance” halfway across, as local biking enthusiasts enjoyed the crossing, which ties into the trail stretching all the way to West Glacier.
The new bridge opened to traffic about an hour after the ribbon cutting.
The opening of the new bridge doesn’t mean the end of construction over the South Fork of the Flathead River. In this coming construction season, the attention will focus on tearing out the old span.