When the Montana Department of Transportation received an initial bid on the rehabilitation of the Higgins Avenue bridge, it came in more that double the estimated price.

The high cost served as a setback to a project years in the making. But that was so last year.

Work to widen and restore the downtown bridge is set to commence on Oct. 5, and motorists, pedestrians and cyclists will spend the next 18 months navigating changing lane configurations and construction activity.

But when work wraps up in December 2021, the city will have a new bridge with 12-foot sidewalks and four lanes of traffic. Sletten Construction won the $16.5 million project.

“The public can expect things to be changing rapidly on Oct. 5.,” said Bob Vosen, the Missoula District administrator for MDT. “The first few days we'll be getting equipment moved in and getting things staged with construction starting later in the week. The week of the fifth is when the public can expect us to be reducing lanes on Higgins Avenue.”

Vosen said work will begin on the west side of the bridge and the southbound lanes. Traffic will move north and south on the eastern side of the bridge. All pedestrian traffic will also be directed to the east side.

“There will definitely be a little disruption, but we'll maintain access to all the businesses as we do the work,” Vosen said. “The first part of the first phase – the west side construction – we're anticipating to last through May.”

Plans initially called for the bridge to begin reconstruction earlier this year. But when MDT opened bids last December, it only received one offer and it was well over budget. The original estimate for the project was $16.7 million, but the single bid was $37.7 million.

“When you throw in a really aggressive schedule on a really complex project, it creates a lot of risk, and the contractors risk equals money, and that showed up in the bidding,” Vosen said. “The time frame is really similar to what we had originally anticipated. We just gave the contractor a lot more lead time to start the construction.”