maclay bridge 2011

Vehicles cross the one-lane Maclay Bridge over the Bitterroot River in this Missoulian file photo.

Bob Schweitzer with Maclay Bridge Alliance (guest column, Feb. 26) recently attacked former Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss and blamed her for the Alliance's anger over the South Avenue bridge project. He gives Curtiss too much credit. She was one of all the previous commissioners since 1994 who supported the professional studies and the project. In fact, the only vocal opponent has been recent Commissioner Dave Strohmaier, who, as the Missoulian reported (March 5), shows appalling and unexplained bias in favor of the Alliance on the issue.

Schweitzer's complaint about "pre-decisional" actions is also way off base. There is a long record of unanimous commissioners' decisions approving the project, all based on valid, thorough state and federal studies, one in 1994 and the other in 2013. A third study by HDR Engineering is in draft form and also supports the findings of the earlier two: South Avenue is unquestionably the best route. Interestingly, the Alliance supported the county's selection of HDR Engineering to do this bridge study. Why are the Alliance and Strohmaier now fighting the results?

Of course it's to be expected that the reports ginned up by the Alliance's consultants do support its opposition to the project. Can anyone seriously imagine the Alliance commissioning or promoting any reports that are contrary to the Alliance's predetermined position? However, their consultants' reports were reviewed by truly independent county, Montana Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration representatives who found the Alliance's reports flawed and not credible. Plus, the Montana Department of Labor confirms that neither of the Alliance's contractors is even legally licensed to work as engineers in Montana. Why should we trust reports by unlicensed out-of-state consultants brought in by an agenda-driven special-interest group, over local and publicly funded professional studies?

Schweitzer repeats the worn-out Alliance myth about a bridge creating a bypass, increasing traffic on Blue Mountain Road, incurring high related costs, etc. Why? All are untrue and refuted by past studies. He cites his 2018 consultant's report, based on only a few days in the area, that a north-south bypass would somehow be created from Highway 93 to Reserve Street by an east-west bridge. The Highway 93 to Blue Mountain to South Avenue bypass theory is a longstanding Alliance scare tactic, also addressed and refuted in the 2013 bridge report on page 61, Table 14 and page 63, Figure 6.

The 2013 report shows that with a South Avenue bridge, traffic will actually decrease north of Highway 93 on Blue Mountain Road by up to 400 vehicles per day by 2040. On Blue Mountain Road just south of O'Brien Creek, the model shows a decrease of 350 vehicles per day, and only an increase of 300 vehicles per day by 2040 on the Kona Ranch Bridge.

The county engineer also reviewed the Alliance's 2018 report and found it deeply flawed. Thus, no bypass.

Just a glance at a map shows that a bypass from Highway 93 to Blue Mountain and on to South Avenue and Reserve makes no sense. It's about 6.3 miles long, well over twice as far as staying 2.8 miles on Highway 93 to the Reserve Street and South Avenue intersection. Plus, both routes bring you right back to the same clogged intersection at South and Reserve. And Blue Mountain road is a slow, narrow, winding route without shoulders, with an irrigation ditch on the west and the river on the east.

Schweitzer heard MDT and FHWA on Feb. 13 so he knows the Alliance's theories aren't accepted, yet he persists. Why? It's a waste of time and public funds, and injures our community.

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Kristin Anderson, Brian Lambrecht, Chuck Beagle, Don St. Peter and Michael Burnside are the directors of the newly incorporated Bitterroot Bridges Coalition (formerly known as the Maclay Bridge Coalition). 

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