After delay, MDT to begin Higgins Avenue bridge project this fall

Baring any delays, the Montana Department of Transportation plans to rebid the Higgins Avenue bridge project this spring and begin construction in the fall.

The agency on Thursday released its new timeline after the project was delayed in December after receiving just one bid. While the schedule remains tentative and will hinge on number of factors, work is still expected to advance this year.

Katie Klietz of Big Sky Public Relations said the project would likely begin in October and pause in the heart of winter. Work would pick up again in early spring with plans to open the bridge by the fall of 2021.

“The project is then anticipated to be fully wrapped up in the spring of 2022 after final striping, painting and paving have been completed,” Klietz said.

MDT opened bids for the project in December, but only one bid was received. It came it at $37.7 million, well above the project’s initial $16.6 million budget.

Transportation officials said the lack of bids was likely due to the project’s aggressive timeline.

“We have met with the contracting community to get a feel for what their concerns where, and why we only had one bidder, and why that bid came in so high,” said Bob Vosen, the Missoula district administrator with MDT. “We’re working through some of the issues that were identified.”

As it stands, Vosen said, bids would go out again this spring with the intention of starting construction in the fall. The shift in timing could help the contracting community deal with procurement issues.

“We’ll continue to coordinate with our contracting community to make sure what we’re looking at doing is going to address their concerns and what they perceive to be the high-risk areas,” Vosen said. “We want to mitigate the risks to the contractor.”

The project will rehabilitate the deterioration that’s taken place over the bridge’s 55 years of service. That includes replacing the deck and repairing the superstructure and concrete supports.

Beyond the essential repairs, work will also widen the deck to create more space for pedestrians and bicyclists. The sidewalks will grow from 4 feet in width to 13 feet on both sides.

MDT has said the bridge remains structurally sound.

“We’re going to deliver the Higgins bridge project, but there’s several things at play here,” Vosen said. “We’ve got the community needs, we’ve got the traveling public’s needs and we’ve got the contractor needs. But let’s not forget about the fiscal responsibility I have to deliver a project that’s safe and adequate, but also one that’s done in a fiscally responsible manner.”

Vosen said the roughly $17 million budget deserves a second look. It’s one of the issues that remains in play.

“We’ll be taking a look at that to see if there’s some risks we didn’t properly evaluate,” he said. “We’re still working on that. Obviously, we’re in a time crunch to get things moving along.”