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Expect Delays: Madison Street bridge replacement to begin this year

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A rendering of proposed lane configurations for a new Madison Street bridge. (Montana Department of Transportation)

By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

The Montana Department of Transportation said Tuesday it had secured the funding to reconstruct the crumbling Madison Street bridge several years ahead of schedule, making it the first of several major transportation jobs planned in Missoula over the coming years.

The agency discussed the project during a brief transportation meeting with elected officials representing the city of Missoula and Missoula County.

“We’re going to see a lot of major construction in Missoula over the next couple years, the likes of which Missoula hasn’t seen in some time,” said Ed Toavs, manager of the Missoula District with MDT. “We’re going to have to start working with the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the city to look at a communication’s plan.”

Acting on the advice of MDT, the city last month closed the Madison Street bridge for safety reasons. The cycle of freeze and thaw has eroded the sidewalks, leaving gaping holes in the decking that offer views of the river below.

While the bridge wasn’t slated for reconstruction until 2020, the local district moved the project onto this year’s list of high-priority jobs. Work is expected to run two construction seasons and will likely impact traffic during the University of Montana football season.

“When you reduce the entrance of UM from four lanes to two, that has a big impact,” Toavs said. “We want to get that awareness out to folks.”

Early plans for the Madison Street structure call for slightly narrower travel lanes and the removal of the center median. That would allow sidewalks to be widened from roughly 4 feet to just under six feet.

However, the city may work to tweak the plans to ensure the bridge meets future multi-model transportation needs.

“What we hope to do through the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and Parks and Recreation is address additional issues in design and function of the bridge,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen. “Those conversations are happening as well. Staff will be bringing this (transportation committee) an amendment.”

Shane Stack, an engineer with MDT, said crews will removed the decking down to the beams and columns before pouring a new concrete deck, first on one side and then the other. The work will reduce four lanes of traffic to two.

While the Madison project moves forward, funding has not been identified to reconstruct the Higgins Avenue bridge, which also remains a high priority. But MDT now has $8.5 million it had earmarked for the Madison project, leaving the possibility that it could be directed to the Higgins project.

“Over the last two or three years, there have been planning discussions about both the Madison Street bridge and the Higgins Avenue bridge,” said Jessica Morriss, the city’s transportation planning manager. “They’re continuing those conversations about doing a major rehabilitation of both bridges.”

The Madison Street project marks the first of what Toavs said will be a series of high-dollar transportation improvements in Missoula. A five-legged roundabout at Orange Street and Interstate 90 is slated for construction this year. The following season, two additional roundabouts and a sound barrier are planned for the Van Buren interchange.

Also next year, reconstruction of the Russel Street corridor is set to begin, starting with the replacement of the aging Russell Street bridge. That project is expected to last several seasons.

Given the scale of the projects and their construction length, MDT and local officials will work to build a communications plan to inform the traveling public of any delays and construction updates.

“We need to get that awareness out to folks,” Toavs said. “We’ll be working MPO and city on global communications as these projects come out to get that information out to folks.”