Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Faced with a deteriorating structure, the City of Missoula on Wednesday agreed to increase the budget earmarked for engineering and repair costs for the Northside Pedestrian Bridge.

While the bridge was built in 1999, it has faced a mounting list of issues and they're growing worse, according to David Selvage, the city's superintendent of parks services and systems.

“This request will advance a newly developing repair concern, which is the masonry block,” Selvage told members of the City Council. “Everywhere has some cracks. It's particularly noticeable in the fenestration. This will certainly impact the total budget cost.”

The bridge was designed by HDR and the city increased its contract with the firm for repairs by $171,000 on Wednesday. The bridge was constructed in 1999 and underwent renovations in 2010 to address some electrical lighting issues.

In 2021, the City Council then approved a capital project to renovate the bridge's ramps due to the deterioration of the structure's deck pans. The project was set to bid last winter when another inspection revealed cracked masonry in both bridge towers.

“We're trying to avoid closure right now,” Selvage said. “We're in the process of securing quotes to do some shoring where the pan is missing. We're doing daily inspections. They're taking baseline photos and looking for cracks.”

The bridge serves as a vital link connecting the Northside neighborhood with the downtown district. While closing the bridge for repairs isn't optimal, Selvage said without repairs the bridge would have to close for safety reasons.

The latest budget increase for repairs aims to prevent that outcome, he said.

“We'd like to get through the school season, but the pan is deteriorating at an ever rapidly rate, and it's possible we'd be forced to shut this down for public safety purposes,” Selvage said, adding that the repairs are planned for next summer.

Past members of the council have questioned why the bridge is in such poor condition given its relatively young age. Now, those who represent the area are concerned about a possible closure and the lack of reasonable options to walk or bike downtown.

The bridge spans the Montana Rail Link railroad yard.

“This is a vital crossing for the Northside. A lot of kids use this. It's easily bikeable,” said council member Jennifer Savage. “The Orange Street underpass is not, nor is it a particularly safe feeling for a woman walking alone. I hope we can find a way to keep the pedestrian bridge open, even during construction. It would be a huge impact to the Northside if it were closed.”