The South Dakota Transportation Commission on Tuesday, Sept. 22, voted to award the $50 million Pierre-Fort Pierre Missouri River Bridge replacement project to Jensen Construction of Des Moines.

The Commission met by telephone and from a Sioux Falls office, according to its agenda.

South Dakota Secretary of Transportation Darin Bergquist announced the news late Tuesday and said Jensen Construction’s bid was for $49.99 million.

“Replacing the Missouri River Bridge at this location has been in the planning stages for the better part of 20 years,” Bergquist said. “A project of this magnitude takes tremendous resources and cooperation from several entities. I’d like to extend a sincere thank you to the SDDOT team, cities of Pierre and Fort Pierre, FHWA,(Federal Highway Administration), Governor Noem, and the Transportation Commission for bringing this project to life.”

“We are excited to construct this structure for the state of South Dakota,” Ryan Cheeseman, division manager and engineer with Jensen Construction, told the Capital Journal via email.

He said work on the bridge will begin this fall, with an initial crew of about five “and will grow as we are able to expand our operations.”

“Numerous local subcontractors will be used,” Cheeseman said. “In fact, outside of the river bridge, the remainder of the project will be mostly built by local firms.”

He said Jensen has built Missouri River bridges at Yankton, Vermillion and at Niobrara, Nebraska, spanning the Big Mo from Running Water, South Dakota.

Local star Tom Brokaw made that bridge in an out-of-the way place into a national news story, calling it pork barrel politics and a waste to taxpayers’ money, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Maybe there’s a lesson there, or maybe not, for Pierre and Fort Pierre.

“We have another example of good intentions, money legally spent, but the enduring question: Was this really necessary?” said Brokaw as he introduced a “Fleecing of America” report critical of the project on the “NBC Nightly News” about the time the bridge opened in October 1998.

It cost $17 million.

Brokaw, of course, went to high school in nearby Yankton and maybe was sticking up for his hometown’s own Missouri River bridge. Brokaw’s father also happened to be a construction foreman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who helped build Fort Randall Dam not far upstream from Standing Bear Bridge. So the TV news anchor knew of the lay of the land.

South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow was having none of it and riposted Brokaw as he cut the ribbon for the new bridge in all his winsome frankness in 1998:

“They talk about whether or not this is a pork barrel project,” Janklow told the crowd. “So it is! What’s wrong with that? It’s our turn!”

The late Janklow, elected to four terms as governor, had a style not so dissimilar to certain national political figures today.

Whatever, the news of the bid being awarded for the new bridge to keep Fort Pierre and Pierre linked is good news to local civic leaders.

“We’re pretty excited that it’s been awarded and we’ll be able to move along on that project,” Rick Hahn, public works director for Fort Pierre, told the Capital Journal. “Now we are trying to figure out what our plaza is going to cost.”

The cities of Pierre and Fort Pierre each designed their own areas where the bridge abuts their shore, with varied features; the cities also together are paying for some lighting features on the bridge to enhance its look, as part of the DOT’s plan. Those items are in the contract awarded Thursday, Hahn said.

He had seen earlier that there were three bidders on the project that was estimated by DOT to cost $49.87 million, Hahn said. “Two were in that $69 million area and the low one was in that $49.990 (million) area.”

Jensen Construction dates to 1912 and specializes in bridges, perhaps especially Missouri River ones: it’s also built them at Omaha and at Council Bluffs, Iowa, according to its website.

The John C. Waldron Memorial Bridge built in 1962 carries U.S. Highways 14 and 83 and state Highway 34 over the Missouri between Fort Pierre and Pierre.

The Waldron name, honoring Fort Pierre native Commander John C. Waldron, a hero pilot of the Battle of Midway in World War II.

The new bridge is expected to be completed in late 2023.

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