Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Missoula County will close another bridge to traffic on Friday morning, saying it too has structural issues that make it unsafe for travel.

County officials announced the closure of the Maclay Bridge on Thursday, saying it would remain closed “for the foreseeable future.” The bridge serves as one of the only ways across the Bitterroot River west of Missoula and was recommended for removal two years ago.

“Drivers will need to use … detour routes around the closure,” the county stated. “The bridge will also be closed to pedestrian and bicycle access.”

The structural integrity of several bridges across Missoula County has become an issue over the past six months, starting with the state's determination that the Rock Creek Road bridge east of Missoula was in “scour critical” condition.

The county then permanently closed Boy Scout Bridge in Seeley Lake over structural concerns, followed weeks later by the partial closure of the Glacier Creek Bridge near Condon, also due to structural concerns.

The Sunset Hill Bridge over the Blackfoot River also needs repairs. The closure of the Maclay Bridge marks the latest in the county's bridge saga.

“Public Works staff will evaluate the feasibility and cost associated with temporarily repairing the bridge, but may ultimately decide to close the bridge permanently,” the county said.

While the bridge's use as a public crossing is now uncertain, it's not necessarily a new twist. The bridge was first constructed in 1893 but washed out several times with the current version dating back to 1953.

Missoula County, along with the Montana Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, are currently completing necessary paperwork to build a new bridge just south of Maclay on South Avenue.

The new bridge has been debated and discussed for years and would ultimately replace the Maclay Bridge, which is a one-late structure that's nearly a century old. The county said construction of the South Avenue bridge could start as soon as 2026, pending review by the Federal Highway Administration.

“MDT will manage construction of the new bridge, which will be paid for with federal and state gas-tax funds,” the county said. “No county funding will go toward the South Avenue Bridge project.”

With several bridges out of service due to structural issues, Missoula County this week approved an agreement with a local engineering firm to draft a grant application in hopes of landing funding to complete repairs.

The county also amended a contract to conduct a subsurface analysis at Boy Scout Bridge in Seeley Lake in hopes of pinning down the cost of needed repairs.