Russell Street redo

An artist's rendering of a new bridge planned for Russell Street. The project would expand the bridge and Russell from two lanes to five, and include raised bike lanes and sidewalks.

With a host of projects planned to begin in the next five years, almost every one of Missoula’s major arteries will look different by the early 2020s, thanks to $56 million in state and federal funding.

The projects begin with improvements to Madison and Russell streets in the first half of 2017, and extend to a rebuilt Higgins Street Bridge, to begin in summer 2020, if designs are approved by then, according to Shane Stack, Montana Department of Transportation engineer with the Missoula Division.

Ward 3 representative Emily Bentley encouraged Missoulians to be patient with the ongoing projects. Though they may seem endless, the city will be better for it, she said.

“I know it’s frustrating, but it’s important we don’t let these construction projects get the better of us,” she said. “Overall, they are definitely an improvement.”

Russell Street will widen to five lanes from Third Street South to Broadway, with the middle lane acting in different areas as a turn lane, right-of-way or landscaped median. New sidewalks, trails and bus pullouts will run along either side.

“It’s hard to imagine five lanes there, or even six lanes up at Third Street, and it’s kind of scary,” Bentley said.

The intersection of Wyoming and Russell streets will have four-way signals and the Milwaukee Trail will go underneath the road, as it does on Orange Street.

The Russell Street Bridge will be wider than its present width, to accommodate five auto lanes, as well as bike lanes and sidewalks.

The Madison Street Bridge will start seeing construction to shore up the underside of the roadway in November or December 2016, while work on northbound lanes will begin in January 2017; through any snow or cold that may come.

“The contractor believes they can do it regardless of weather,” he said.

The underbridge will be closed from January to the end of construction, slated for August 2017.                                   

On both the Madison and Higgins bridges, the median will be removed, to add more room for bicycles and a wider sidewalk on each side. Right now, Stack said, the bike and walk lanes are far smaller than standard widths.

Stack said the state believes the space along the north side of Madison, next to the DoubleTree hotel, actually is public land, not owned by Hilton. MDT is going to survey the area to make sure.

That would give bicyclists and pedestrians going that way from the underbridge a little peace of mind, no longer feeling as though they’re trespassing, Bentley said.

“I believe the DoubleTree appreciates the fact that there’s some free public parking here,” Stack said, pointing at the spaces right next to where the Madison Street Bridge connects on the north shore of the Clark Fork.

“This was the Number One priority, as far as making this connection.”

The Van Buren exit will look completely different as well, with two roundabouts, one on each side of the interstate, feeding traffic through, and sound barriers set up on either side of Van Buren.

Vine Street residents will no longer look at a chainlink fence blocking off grass on the side of I-90, but rather, a tall noise-dampening wall, set farther back from the street, giving them access to the grassy area.

Though early design sketches just show the wall as a sort of patterned gray slab, Stack said MDT is considering giving them a more appealing look, using a new technology that allows images to be cut into the stone walls.

“I hope this doesn’t become difficult, because everybody has an opinion,” Stack sighed. “It’s an opportunity to provide something very unique and very cool for the community.”

The images could show the history of Missoula Valley, Stack said, even as far back as Glacial Lake Missoula, in several separate murals, adding MDT will involve the community in their decision.

The Higgins Street Bridge, Stack said, would not be wide enough for an expanded sidewalk and bike lane, even after getting rid of the median.

The current plan involves extending the sidewalk on each side of the bridge, so that pedestrians coming from the Wilma would walk straight onto the bridge, instead of winding their way on as they do now.

That will be done by using a lightweight, fiber-reinforced polymer to widen the bridge over empty air on the west side of the bridge, Stack said.

“There’s a pretty large cost associated with that,” Stack said. “What we end up with is a 13-foot-wide sidewalk and bike facility.”

Signal changes, some in progress, will bring modern updates to Missoula, in meeting Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal requirements.

New Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS), will not only offer visual and audio cues, like the buttons at the intersection of South Sixth and Arthur streets, but also will vibrate in certain patterns, letting those with sight and hearing impairments cross safely.

The old pedestrian signals, Stack said, were so out of date Missoula could only replace them when other towns replaced their signals and passed on the used parts.

Meeting a new federal requirement, drivers turning left will now see a blinking yellow arrow after a green arrow at left turns in Missoula.  

Stack said the old method, of following a green arrow with a regular green light, was changed “'cause some folks were getting confused.”

The intersection of West Broadway and Higgins Avenue will now have a short green arrow for those driving north on Higgins, Stack said. 

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