Calling it a high priority, the Montana Department of Transportation has plans to replace or rehabilitate three of the four bridges crossing the Clark Fork River in Missoula in the coming years.
The Russell Street Bridge is on deck for replacement in 2017 as MDT launches a major project to widen the two-lane road to four lanes from West Broadway to Dakota Street.
Eventually, the project will continue to Mount Avenue.
“The three bridges – Russell, Higgins Avenue and Madison Street – get a lot of traffic and they’re not in the best of shape,” said Ed Toavs, director of MDT's Missoula District. “They’re high-profile, high-priority bridges, but they still have to compete for funding.”
While the Russell Street Bridge is in the funding hopper, efforts continue to fully design and pay for the Madison Street and Higgins Avenue bridges.
Both bridges were identified in a Missoula Bridges Planning Study as structurally deficient. They presented multiple seismic hazards, and the bicycle lanes, sidewalks and railings no longer meet current design standards.
“I think we’ve agreed locally on the scope of the Madison bridge,” said Shane Stack, an engineer with MDT. “That project is funded in 2020.”
Exactly what the project entails has not be finalized, but any project is expected to include wider sidewalks and bike lanes while maintaining all four lanes of traffic.
A 2010 traffic study counted 12,665 daily vehicle trips over the Madison Street bridge. By 2040, projections estimate 22,400 daily vehicle trips. The Higgins bridge saw 18,148 vehicle trips in 2010, with 23,578 trips projected in 2040.
Stack said work continues to design the Higgins bridge project.
“We’re trying to utilize the space we have there as best we can, and look at the additional costs of widening out,” Stack said. “We’ve determined we can widen the facilities out on the east side enough with the space we have there. It’s the western side we’re concerned about.”
While money has not been identified for the Higgins project, Stack said it could still move forward sooner rather than later.
If the project is designed and shovel-ready, he said, it could receive funding if another one falls through.
“What sometimes happens is that a project slips in our district or another district and can’t be funded in a particular year, so they’re looking for projects that are ready to go,” Stack said. “If Higgins and Madison are ready to go and the funding size fits their needs and there’s no competition, it’s one of those things that can happen sooner.”
Toavs said both projects remain a high priority for MDT.
“Both bridges, but especially Higgins, are pretty important to the community here,” said Toavs. “They carry a lot of traffic, a lot of pedestrian and bicycle folks, and the bridges are of age. They need a new deck and need to be a little more sound. We’re motivated to develop them.”