No one lives closer than Mark Landheer to the Van Buren Street interchange construction, which has stretched into its fourth month.
His is the first house on the right as you go up the Rattlesnake.
“I’m kind of glad I’m retired with all this going on,” Landheer said Thursday with a sigh. “I wake up in the morning and I don’t have to fight it. My time is my own, pretty much.”
That said, he remains a fan of the project. Already complete are the bones of two large roundabouts at the bottoms of all four Interstate 90 ramps on the eastern edge of town.
“I think it’s going to be really nice when it gets done, I really do,” Landheer said during a pause in mowing his lawn. “Especially for the pedestrians and bicyclists, but motorists, too.”
The completion date might be earlier than he thought.
Thanks to good weather and Pearl Jam, work is progressing ahead of schedule.
“Basically, we’ve got the east side of the project complete, the westbound off-ramp and eastbound on-ramp,” said Bob Vosen, district engineer for the Montana Department of Transportation. “We’re starting now to work on the west halves of the ramps.”
The plan was to do most of the traffic-disrupting work on Van Buren between the time school ended in the spring and when it fires up again in late August. The tentative target date was Aug. 23.
“If they keep up this pace they’re going to be done well ahead of that,” Donny Pfeifer said, as he watched Knife River crews pour the last of the concrete curbs and gutters at the bottom of the on-ramp.
Pfeifer, construction operations engineer for MDT’s Missoula district, said the “soft goal” is now Aug. 13, the day of the Pearl Jam concert in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The concert was announced after the timetable for the Van Buren project was set. It became clear that with the anticipated traffic volume, having all four ramps and both roundabouts functioning at Exit 105, directly across the river from the stadium, would be advisable.
“We would love to have it completely open, but if it’s not we’ll make some short-term modifications to help move traffic, for sure,” Pfeifer said.
Meanwhile, preparations for a Plexiglas sound wall on the interstate bridge have reduced traffic over Van Buren Street to one lane. That’ll be the case into September, so it’ll remain an issue for the concert, the opening of classes and at least the first two Grizzly home football games on Sept. 1 and 8.
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On Thursday, no fewer than six automated traffic lights directed vehicles through the snug turns around half-roundabouts on Van Buren. Pfeifer watched closely as a fire truck with siren blaring navigated successfully through and up the street with no delays.
“That’s what we’re hoping happens,” said Pfeifer. “The traffic control contractor (Mountain West) has been doing a good job and being pretty innovative with the timing and the signaling. It’s not perfect, right? I mean, it’s tight, narrow lanes. But people are getting through, and it’s been very appreciated.”
Landheer has had a front-row seat through it all. He’s used to the traffic and noise on Van Buren, but says he’s been against the sound barriers on I-90 “from the very beginning.” The one on the I-90 overpass will be more a view barrier for him, he said, pointing to his panorama that includes the mountains in the northern Bitterroots.
The puffs of dust his lawnmower kicked up reminded Landheer of another short-term grievance.
“I don’t mind the commotion and the noise, but I’m really getting tired of choking on this dust,” he said shortly after noon. “They wet it down every morning, but look, it’s already pretty much dried up. In another hour or two it’ll just be rolling again.”
Changes are coming to the Russell Street rebuild across town, too.
Starting Monday, Wyoming Street east of Russell will be reopened and two-way traffic on Russell will be moved to the east side.
That means access off Russell to Wyoming Street on the west side will be closed, and will probably remain so through mid-August. Home ReSource, Westside Lanes and Fun Center and the new Missoula Food Bank line Wyoming on that side.
An MDT alert advised that access to those and other businesses will be along Montana, a block to the north, to Catlin. Dakota Street, east of Russell a block south of Wyoming, will be closed at its intersection with Russell through November, as will the Milwaukee Trail from Catlin Street to Prince Street.
MDT’s Huson East project on the Frenchtown Frontage Road is “churning along,” Vosen said.
“We’re hoping to have it paved from the Huson interchange east to the high school by next week.”
Schellinger Construction out of Columbia Falls is moving from west to east on the project, a complete reconstruction of the 11-mile two-lane between Huson and Highway 93. Barring unfavorable weather, the roadway and bike-pedestrian path alongside it will be completed by the end of the 2018 season.