Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The saga surrounding the maligned Northside pedestrian bridge near downtown Missoula could be approaching an end, if work to repair the failing structure moves forward as planned.

Members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday approved an additional $107,000 in funding to complete the engineering work that's needed before actual repairs to the bridge can be made.

The addition brings the engineering contract, awarded to HDR, to $415,000.

David Selvage, superintendent of park services and systems, said actual repairs will cost another $2.5 million and will include replacing the masonry block walls with concrete and shoring up the structure.

The city expects the engineering phase to be completed by the end of March. Construction would occur once that phase is done.

“Our time frame is going to be subject to working with Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Montana Rail Link since we anticipate the contractor will have to work within the railyard,” Selvage said. “The work, to change out the walls, we're anticipating a similar design. We think we'll be able to replicate the look we have today.”

The bridge was designed by HDR and was constructed in 1999. It underwent renovations in 2010 to address electrical lighting issues. But since then, a number of structural issues also have emerged including poor drainage, rusting deck pans and failing masonry walls in both bridge towers.

The city was forced to close the bridge last year due to safety issues while exploring potential remedies. It settled on a plan to replace the masonry walls with concrete walls and improve the bridge's drainage.

“A component of the project is to replace the decking that's failing. The pans are peeling off and rusting through,” said Selvage. “They're failing because of poor drainage, the orientation of the pans and the use of salts for winter maintenance. The new design increases the drainage inside the structure so it gets out quicker. It should give us a longer life.”

Members of council have inquired on what the bridge's life expectancy was when it was built 25 years ago. City staff hasn't been able to answer that question, though Selvage believes the bridge will last 50 years once the work is finished.

However, the elevator that was included with the project may never see service again. That raises questions on whether the bridge is ADA compliant, members of council suggested.

“I met with a local elevator representative and I'm advised there's not a whole lot we can't do with that,” Selvage said. “We're going to have to keep it sealed off. It's a clear public safety hazard.”

Members of council haven't said much regarding the growing cost of fixing the bridge, though they're eager to get it reopened.

“Hopefully there's an end in sight. It's a vital piece in connecting the Northside to downtown,” said council member Heidi West. “And I think we can come up with a creative way to use the elevator space if it's never going to be used as an elevator.”

West suggested a coffee shop.