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Maclay Bridge develops holes

Maclay Bridge in Missoula. 

There they go again! Maclay Bridge Alliance (MBA) is ignoring science and promoting fiscal irresponsibility. MBA rewrites history and promotes false “facts.”

MBA's Sept. 25 column is full of their same tired talking points, all refuted by past independent studies including current ones by HDR engineering. Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier continues to show extreme bias toward MBA's "facts" and ignores the science in HDR's reports. Will HDR's recent responses to his 98 critiques of HDR's work cause him to reconsider? Strohmaier insists on spending millions of county taxpayer money instead of accepting federal funds to build a new South Avenue Bridge. Is Commissioner Juanita Vero just going along with raising taxes for the entire county instead of accepting federal funds for a safer bridge?

MBA claims the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) never approved 1994 environmental assessment, the first study which identified South Avenue as best replacement bridge location. But FHWA's signature is on the EA's cover accepting it. FHWA didn’t issue its decision because no funding was available, but there is federal funding available now for a new bridge (but not to rehabilitate the old one).

The "nationally recognized historic bridge experts" MBA praises are MBA’s own unlicensed consultants hired to support its position. Licensed county engineers, Montana Department of Transportation, FHWA, HDR and licensed, independent bridge expert Merv Eriksson all shot MBA's "experts'” reports full of holes, much like the current condition of Maclay Bridge!

MBA helped pick HDR as the expert consultant for latest studies, but once HDR's reports didn’t support MBA's position, MBA denigrated HDR's work.

MBA embraces the notion MBA and Strohmaier can get a "design exception" for the dangerous approaches to the old bridge. But MDT and FHWA say that will not happen; it will not pay for rehabilitating the old structure. If it were possible to rehabilitate in place, we would still have a single-lane bridge with dangerous approaches unable to sustain projected traffic volumes that still harms the Bitterroot River. How is that an improvement? MBA conveniently omits the fact total rehabilitation costs would be borne by county taxpayers, not by any federal gas tax funds.

MBA's list of "significant impacts" trots out the bizarre notion a secret bypass would be created, but cannot say from where to where. HDR's up-to-date modeling and traffic monitoring shows no bypass would be created from the Bitterroot Valley or anywhere. The other environmental issues are all addressed in HDR's environmental engineering reports posted at southavenuebridge.com. Clearly MBA has not read them and does not want you to read them either.

MBA has successfully blocked a new bridge and raised taxpayer's costs for decades including confidential liability settlements paid from taxpayers monies. Delay is MBA’s strategy, without regard to cost to county taxpayers. In 2012-2013, commissioners and MDT launched a study specifically to examine MBA's complaints. Like in 1994, it found South Avenue was the best location and we need a new two-lane bridge.

Commissioners need to stop viewing MBA's spin as credible and listen to its own engineers, MDT, FHWA and HDR. It should analyze what is in the best interests of the entire county and its taxpayers, not MBA. This farce has gone on long enough. County taxpayers need to hold the commissioners accountable. Why would any serious board pass up federal and state funding for new and safer two-lane bridge at a better location and instead choose to raise county taxes to rehabilitate an old, dangerously designed, single-lane bridge in a bad location?

Contact Commissioners Strohmaier, Slotnick and Vero, and tell them to advance the South Avenue Bridge project.

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Linda St. Peter of Missoula is a member of the Bitterroot Bridges Coalition, Inc. 

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