Van Buren interchange rendering

A MDT rendering of the Van Buren interchange project.

The Van Buren interchange project is about one month from officially starting, but crews will begin preparing the area any day now.

The project is set to start April 16, with construction done by Knife River, which handled the Orange Street roundabout project last summer.

“The timeline on that one’s pretty tight, so they’re going to want to get started,” Montana Department of Transportation Operations Engineer Donny Pfeifer said.

Pfeifer, along with Missoula area Construction Engineer Bob Vosen, met with the Missoulian earlier this month to run down some coming construction projects.

Van Buren’s double-roundabout interchange should be open by the end of the summer, Pfeifer said, with landscaping completed in early fall.

The deadline of Aug. 25 comes with penalties to Knife River for every day it goes over, and incentives for finishing early.

That method was used with the Orange Street roundabout, which Knife River ended up finishing about two weeks early.

“That project, in my mind, was pretty darn successful,” Vosen added.

Work begins with tree and shrub removal in the area. The rest of the project will be completed in four stages, with crews moving around each exit ramp, starting with the eastbound on-ramp.

Each exit will be closed for somewhere between two and three weeks, according to Pfeifer.

“We understand the inconvenience,” he said. “(But) they won’t ever have Van Buren completely closed.”

Construction crews must have two-way traffic open on Van Buren during peak commute times, Pfeifer said. Those fall between 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Other hours may have flagged traffic.

Those biking to work or walking through the underpass will have 24/7 access.

The two roundabouts will sit on either side of the interstate overpass, according to construction plans, and both outscale the Orange Street roundabout.

The other major part of the upgrade is adding sound barriers along the northern edge of the interstate, to cut down on the neighborhood impact.

A plexiglass noise wall will be put up along the overpass, Pfeifer said, and two concrete walls will line the interstate along Vine Street on either side of Van Buren.

The west barrier is shorter — just 612 feet long — and will start partway up the westbound on-ramp by the Gregory Park tennis courts.

The east barrier also starts partway up the exit ramp, but tracks 1,452 feet along the edge of the highway, along the residential portion of Vine Street.

At some point there was talk from MDT about putting some images on the noise walls, but Pfeifer said that didn’t end up being possible due to the sheer size of the walls, which average around 12 feet tall along their lengths.

Instead, the walls will be stamped with a “Missoula stone” texture pattern.

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arts reporter for the Missoulian.