The threat of an abandoned railroad bridge over the Yellowstone River collapsing has shuttered a portion of Highway 89 northeast of Livingston.
Meanwhile, crews will be dispatched to the Beartooth Highway on Monday to begin rebuilding six sections that were washed out.
Floodwaters gushing down the Yellowstone River since Sunday have eroded the soil around the Highway 89 North Railroad Bridge, which runs parallel to the highway as it passes over the river. That erosion has prompted officials to shut down the highway until the integrity of the railroad bridge can be assessed.
“It’s still a lingering question of whether it will collapse,” said Kate Wilson, public information officer with the County Assist Team assigned to Park County. “It’s been quite some time since the bridge has been in use … It’s more of an iconic piece in town.”
Wilson said the highway bridge will like stay closed through the weekend, as crews will need to wait for the river level to drop in order to fully assess the integrity of the bridge. Should the railroad bridge collapse, she said, it could damage some of the surrounding infrastructure. However, it’s impossible to know exactly what will happen should the bridge crumble.
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The historic Carbella Bridge, running across the Yellowstone River to access Tom Miner Basin between Livingston and Gardiner, was completely washed away by the onslaught of water Monday.
Downstream, the Highway 89 bridge at the Point of Rocks fishing access site was compromised by flooding. Crews should have that route reopened by the coming week, said Lori Ryan of the Montana Department of Transportation.
Where Highway 89 was underwater at Yankee Jim Canyon has been reopened. Travelers can access Gardiner via Highway 89 south from Livingston to Emigrant, then cross the Yellowstone River to the Highway 540 frontage road to avoid the bridge near Point of Rocks and travel on to Gardiner. The road from Gardiner on to Yellowstone National Park, however, remains closed indefinitely.
The CAT team in Park County is currently assessing the total damage inflicted by the river, including the number of homes damaged and lost. Wilson said homes were definitely lost in the flood, but teams are still trying to determine the exact number.
Crews working to rebuild the Beartooth Highway won't have to worry about the switchbacks that climb up the Montana side and drop back down to Cooke City on the Wyoming side. The 11,000-foot high pass survived the flooding with only minimal damage like rock and mudslides that will be easily cleaned up.
The roadway is an important tourist artery for Red Lodge and Cooke City, communities dependent on summer visitors for the majority of their income.