Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) A contractual oversight during the construction of the South Reserve Street pedestrian bridge has left the structure “energized” due an electrical leak, and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency will address the issue.

The board of commissioners last week approved a $47,000 agreement with Parks and Recreation to install a ground fault protection circuit to address the problem, which surfaced over the last two winters, according to city staff.

“Over the last couple of winters, the bridge's steel superstructure had become energized through an electrical leak,” said Todd Gass with MRA. “The source of that was unknown until recently.”

The bridge was constructed in 2017 to continue the Bitterroot Branch Trail from central Missoula down to Lolo and the Bitterroot Valley. It also created a vital connection to Ft. Missoula Regional Park and alleviated the need to cross Reserve Street at grade.

The bridge includes a weather-sensing system that controls the heated deck to keep it from icing. Adjustments were made to the system in 2020 and included the instillation of an automated controller, allowing Parks and Rec to adjust the system remotely as an energy saving measure.

But along the way, a ground fault protection circuit was never installed, the city said.

“This is a complicated system. We've had challenges with the fiber reinforced panel contractor that should have known some of these things,” said David Selvage with Parks and Rec. “There were lots of moving parts, and this was missed. We believe this will address the primary safety concerns of energy usage.”

The Bitterroot Trail. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)
The Bitterroot Trail. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The bridge serves an estimated 200 people a day and has become a popular addition to Midtown, which is separated from Ft. Missoula by Reserve Street and five lanes of busy traffic.

Because the ground-fault protection circuit should have been included as part of the construction package, MRA agreed to cover the $47,000 cost of installing it. Parks and Rec will continue to manage and maintain the bridge.

“One of the things that's often missed when looking at this bridge is that we have a couple of neighborhoods on the east side of Reserve that are drastically underserved with parkland,” said MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “This bridge connects them to Ft. Missoula Regional Park. As there's more and more activities in Ft. Missoula Regional Park, there's going to be more and more use of this bridge.”