South Reserve Street ped bridge wins statewide honors in engineering excellence

Missoulians cross the South Reserve Street pedestrian bridge during its ribbon cutting in April. The structure was recognized in a statewide award this week for its excellence in engineering. (Missoula Current)

A once controversial pedestrian bridge spanning South Reserve Street in Missoula received a statewide award for excellence in engineering in the transportation category this week, and has been nominated for a national award.

The $4.2 million bridge opened to great fanfare on a sunny day in April, marking the final piece in a trail system that now extends from Missoula through the Bitterroot Valley to Hamilton.

“Reserve Street was probably the major impediment to that trail being a complete trail system,” said Ellen Buchanan, director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. “People couldn’t cross South Reserve Street, so it seemed to us, our board and City Council, that this was a project worthy of spending tax increment revenue on from Urban Renewal District III.”

Bridge construction began in the spring of 2016, shortly after the Missoula City Council approved MRA’s request for a 25-year bond to pay for the project. Debt repayment comes from tax increment generated by the surrounding district, which has seen increased development over the past two years.

Designed by DJ&A in Missoula, the bridge extends 707 feet and includes a 190-foot span over South Reserve Street, which has served as a barrier to those on Missoula’s south side looking to access Fort Missoula Regional Park and the newly minted Bitterroot Trail.

According to the Montana Department of Transportation, more than 43,000 vehicles travel South Reserve each day, making it among the busiest roads in the city. The bridge was given statewide recognition by the American Council of Engineering Companies in engineering excellence.

“This award is a statewide acknowledgment of the importance of that project and what an excellent design it is,” Buchanan said. “Now it’s been nominated for a national award, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it gets that, too.”

While some have billed the project as an example of unnecessary spending, others see it as a smart choice that will enhance the city’s quality of life and bring tourists to what is now one of the longest paved trails in Montana.

“This is the last link in a 50-mile separated pathway from downtown Missoula to Hamilton,” Jim Sayer, executive director of Adventure Cycling, said during April’s ribbon cutting. “This is going to be one of the gems in Montana. It’s going to be a huge asset for local tourism.”