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From Missoula to Salmon Lake, MDT details busy summer

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected from an earlier version.

From repairs to the Beartracks Bridge in downtown Missoula to the reconstruction of narrow highway skirting Salmon Lake, the Montana Department of Transportation has a busy season ahead in the Missoula District.

The work will also include infrastructure changes to a dangerous stretch of Highway 93 south of Lolo, and Missoula County will make a final decision on the future of Maclay Bridge.

“We’ve got to make a decision to continue with the Section 106 process,” county public works director Shane Stack told commissioners on Monday. “We need some form of formal decision to determine if we want to move forward with Section 106.”

Section 106 requires that a review of a transportation project include consideration of historic preservation and public input.

The bridge spanning the Bitterroot River in the Missoula Valley has been a contentious issue for years, with some wanting the one-lane structure preserved and left in place. Others want a modern bridge that can handle today’s transportation requirements.

The county is expected to make a formal decision later this month, possibly on Feb. 24.

The Montana Department of Transportation also plans to commence a study of Highway 93 from Lolo to Florence ahead of potential changes to the roadway infrastructure. Jacquelyn Smith, a preconstruction engineer with MDT, said the study will take around 18 months to complete.

“It’s going to be data driven, finding out what issues are going on out there with the roadway and major intersections and what has to be done to fix it,” she said, adding that some of the issues are already understood. “What stood out to me of all the crashes is that there’s a large amount of wildlife collisions on Highway 93 there.”

Money was included in the recently passed transportation bill to construct wildlife crossings, though Smith didn’t say if that would be part of the long-term study.

A separate project intended to address highway safety will also begin this year at Salmon Lake, picking up where a project completed several years ago left off. The upcoming project will stretch from the south end of the lake north to the Placid Lake turnoff.

A contract to begin clearing trees along the roadway will be let later this month.

“You’re going to see tree-clearing happening this spring, but it doesn’t mean the roadwork will be happening this spring,” said Smith. “Once we’re further along in design, around fall, we’ll be able to hit the ground running with the Salmon Lake reconstruction.”

Transportation officials also said work to repair the new Beartracks Bridge will take place this spring. During reconstruction, crews made accidental cuts to key structural components that must be repaired.

The parts have been ordered, but no date has been given for when the ongoing project might come to completion. Missoula County commissioners are pressing for timely completion and the eventual lifting of current weight restrictions.

“It better be done by June because we have the rededication ceremony scheduled for July 16, and MDT has been involved in that conversation,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier.