It’ll take more than a year to complete renovations to the Higgins Avenue bridge, and while the work plays out, Missoula County and other partners will look to christen the final result in honor of valley’s original indigenous inhabitants.
Staging for the $17 million reconstruction project began on Monday and will likely last through next December. Higgins Avenue will undergo a number of lane modifications as construction plays out.
“There’s been some behind the scenes work that’s been going on up to this point,” said MDT project engineer Jacquelyn Smith. “Traffic control is going up today and this week. You can expect one lane, two way traffic by Friday.”
The new bridge will include a new surface and a wider deck to accommodate both foot and bicycle traffic. It will also include new amenities, such as lights and railings, sprucing up the southern gateway into downtown Missoula.
While the bridge has never been officially named, Higgins Avenue was named after Christopher Higgins, an Army captain and businessman who founded the Hellgate Trading Post in 1860 and the city of Missoula.
The Missoula Valley had served as the ancestral home of the Salish people before European settlement. Back in 1891, the U.S. Army marched a band of Bitterroot Salish across one of the original bridges en route to the Flathead reservation.
Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier first suggested naming the bridge after the tribe and one of it’s ancestors back in February. He said Monday those efforts are ongoing.
“So far, everyone within and outside the city I’ve talked to, including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, are very supportive of this,” he said. “The Salish-Pend d’Oreille Cultural Committee has put in a good bit of thought about some possible names for a rededicated Higgins Avenue bridge.”
Since Missoula’s founding, the city’s streets, buildings and landmarks have been named after white Europeans, from presidents to early city founders.
Strohmaier said he’s looking to present the naming proposal to the Missoula City Council, though a date hasn’t been set. Members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenair Tribes will also be consulted.
Giving the bridge an official name can be achieved in two ways, according to Strohmaier. It can either be taken through the Montana Legislature or to the state transportation commissioner.
Strohmaier said the second option is most likley.
“Once I’m able to present this to the City Council, provided there are no major suggestions for changing course, we’ll step it into high gear about the formal process for naming it,” he said. “Right now, it’s not named other than it’s a bridge that crosses the Clark Fork River and is crossed by Higgins Avenue.”