When construction was set to begin on the Madison Street Bridge last year, the project's general contractor accepted a seemingly daunting challenge: Finish the $7 million reconstruction effort by the time the University of Montana Grizzlies played their first home football game.

Mission accomplished.

Frontier West this week opened all four lanes of traffic for the first time since work began last December. While traffic flows unfettered across the new deck, work on the underbridge will continue, though that matters little to the motoring public.

“Opening up the main bridge prior to football season is a win for the community and for our crews,” said Mike Murphy, owner of Frontier West. “Everyone is excited to enjoy the home games without additional traffic congestion created by construction.”

Rehabilitation of the Madison Street Bridge looks to extend the structure’s life by another 50 years. Over the past eight months, crews replaced the failing four-lane deck and prevented future decay of the bridge’s supporting structure.

Additional updates and repairs were also made to improve the bridge's aesthetics, including new railing, lights and signs. Much of the work took place despite frigid winter temperatures and smokey summer days.

“Despite delays in early January due to severe cold weather, the project remained on schedule from start to finish,” said Nathan Sprunger, the project's media contact. “Frontier West crews finished work several weeks early, just before the start of classes and football season at the University of Montana.”

Erected in 1958, the Madison Street Bridge was deemed structurally deficient last August after a piece of concrete broke lose and fell to the riverbank below.

That forced MDT to expedite the $7 million reconstruction effort and complete the work between football and academic seasons at UM.

Other city bridges will follow in the years ahead, including Russell Street, which will be replaced with a new four-lane structure next year as part of an overhaul of the Russell corridor.

Renovation to the Higgins Avenue bridge is also expected to take place within the next few years. The city plans to study whether two lanes would function better than four before settling on a final design.