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Russell Street Bridge file

A Montana Department of Transportation worker waits between construction equipment and traffic to cross Broadway at the north end of the Russell Street Bridge in March. The east half of the new bridge was set to open very late Thursday night or in the wee hours Friday morning.

There’s a new bridge in town, and it’s ready for traffic.

The Montana Department of Transportation said drivers would be able to take the first trips across the new Russell Street Bridge, the east half, either very late Thursday night or in the wee hours Friday morning.

The switch from old to new will take place when traffic volumes are lowest to reduce impacts to the traveling public.

“Our crews have been working throughout the winter and the last year to provide a safe connection through the heart of Missoula,” MDT’s Ed Toavs said in a press release. “The community has been so patient with us while we worked to transform this long-term vision to a tangible reality.”

That said, Toavs said, there’s still a lot of work to do. Traffic impacts and detour routes will remain until the west half is finished later this year. The largest impact will be to the Broadway and Russell Street intersection, where there’s a moderate shift to transition onto the east half. The right turn lane onto Russell will be closed for Broadway eastbound traffic to allow completion of connecting pavement work. Temporary signals are installed at the intersection. They’ll be replaced by permanent signals in mid-July.

The new section comes with a 5½-foot bike lane, sidewalks, curbs and railing. They’ll all be ready for use when it opens this week. The new bridge is roughly 6 feet taller than the existing structure. Once completed, it’ll have additional traffic and bike lanes, as well as lights and trail connections.

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Mineral County, veterans issues

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian