See more of the story

A GPS-obeying trucker drove his overweight big rig onto a 114-year-old bridge in rural northeastern North Dakota and sent the historic span collapsing into the river.

The steel truss bridge’s fall occurred Monday afternoon about 40 miles southwest of Grand Forks near Northwood, according to the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Office.

The semitrailer truck hauling dried navy beans was heading west on an unpaved road when the 42 tons proved far too heavy for the weight-restricted 56-foot-long Northwood Bridge over the Goose River.

The bridge surrendered, and an abutment snagged the truck’s trailer. Shane C. Olson, who owns the truck, told the Star Tribune that his driver, Michael Dodds, was new to the area and “had no good reason to have been on that road.”

Olson explained that Dodds, a Minnesotan from Red Lake Falls, entered his destination of Jamestown, N.D., into his GPS device “and followed that to a fault.”

“He’s never been on that road before,” Olson said, adding that he has forgiven his driver and won’t fire him. Dodds was not available for comment Tuesday.

The Sheriff’s Office said a weight limit of 14 tons was marked on the 18-foot-wide wood-plank bridge, which was built in 1906 by the Fargo Bridge and Iron Co. at a cost of $2,450 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The span was the county’s oldest surviving bridge.

“Structures like the Northwood Bridge are more than just quaint relics; they’re among the most important remaining historic landmarks from North Dakota’s homestead era,” said historian Mark Hufstetler, of Bozeman, Mont., who made the successful Historic Places nomination. “The bridges are also marvels of engineering — intricate and lightweight structures that have endured for more than a century with very little maintenance.”

Hufstetler said the number of historic truss bridges in North Dakota has declined rapidly in recent years, and “this is far from the first time a negligent driver of an overweight vehicle has destroyed an old truss bridge. It seems really unconscionable that someone would risk both their personal property and their community’s heritage in this way, just for the sake of saving a few minutes of travel time.”

The Sheriff’s Office initially estimated the weight of the truck and its load at more than 86 tons but later lowered that total by more than half, but still three times the legal limit.

Olson, of nearby Larimore, acknowledged that the semi was heavier “than what the bridge was weighted for” but disputed that the weight was solely to blame. He said the driver damaged the span when he failed to enter straight and “rubbed the side of the trailer against the structure of the bridge.”

Sheriff Andy Schneider chuckled and rejected that contention, saying, “It sounds like something he’s hoping to believe to be true.”

Dodds, 58, was given an overload citation of $11,400. Cost to replace the county-owned bridge was estimated at $800,000 to $1 million. Olson said his insurance will cover any costs should he be held financially responsible.

Dodds was convicted of exceeding load limits twice in Minnesota in 2017, once in Anoka County and again in Clay County, according to court records.