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Higgins Bridge redesign

A rendering of what the new Higgins Bridge shared use path will look like.

Construction on a new and much-widened Higgins Avenue Bridge is expected to begin in the spring of 2020 and officials say it will be much improved over the current, outdated structure.

The Montana Department of Transportation held a public open house to share designs and take public input on the new bridge at The Wilma on Tuesday. Shane Stack, a Missoula project engineer with MDT, said the department weighed the input of the public and many other stakeholders before deciding to incorporate a shared bike/pedestrian path on either side of the vehicle lanes.

The path will be striped to designate bike lanes and walking paths.

The other option had been to physically separate bike and pedestrian paths, but local transportation organizations endorsed the shared use mode, as did a little more than half of the public comments.

“When you look at what’s there now, it’s going to be a huge improvement,” Stack explained.

The bridge deck will be widened by about eight feet overall, and the new bridge will have a 13-foot-wide, shared use path on the west side and either a 12-foot-wide or 10-foot-wide shared use path on the east side. The staircase in the middle of the east side of the bridge will be removed, but the staircase on the west side will be replaced with a more modern version.

Travis Hoffman of Summit Independent Living in Missoula uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. He was at the open house on Tuesday and said he’d like to see a little bit better design for the stairway, including landing spots every few feet.

The bridge was originally built in 1962, and Stack said it’s now deteriorating and in need of rehabilitation to extend its life. The project will include structural upgrades, as well.

Stack said he didn’t have the exact numbers, but he believes that the Higgins Bridge sees more bicyclists and pedestrians than any other river crossing in Missoula, especially on nights when there are events downtown. The Madison Street underbridge comes in a close second.

Katherine Auge of the city’s Missoula In Motion office said the shared use path will be a big upgrade.

“We at Missoula In Motion are excited for better bike/ped infrastructure on the bridge,” she said.

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