MISSOULA – The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) has a busy season ahead in the Missoula District, from repairs to the Beartracks Bridge in downtown Missoula to rebuilding the narrow freeway along Salmon Lake,
Work will also include infrastructure changes to a dangerous stretch of Highway 93 south of Lolo, and Missoula County will make a final decision on the future of the Maclay Bridge.
“We have to make the decision to proceed with the Section 106 process,” county director of public works Shane Stack told commissioners on Monday. “We need some form of formal decision to determine if we want to move forward with Section 106.”
Section 106 requires that the review of a transportation project take into account historic preservation and public participation.
The bridge spanning the Bitterroot River in the Missoula Valley has been a contentious issue for years, with some wanting the one-lane structure preserved and left in place. Others want a modern bridge that can meet today’s transportation demands.
The county is expected to make an official decision later this month, possibly February 24.
The Montana Department of Transportation also plans to begin a study of Highway 93 from Lolo to Florence ahead of potential highway infrastructure changes. Jacquelyn Smith, preconstruction engineer at MDT, said the study will take about 18 months.
“It’s going to be data-driven, finding out what issues are happening with the roadway and major intersections and what needs to be done about them,” she said, adding that short-term fixes will take place this been to reduce cross collisions. “The resulting short-term solutions will focus on staying within the existing pavement section.”
This could include temporary concrete barriers and reconfigured traffic lanes. Smith said some of the issues are already understood.
“What struck me out of all the crashes is that there are a high number of wildlife strikes on Highway 93 there,” she said. The money was included in the recently passed transportation bill to build wildlife crossings, although Smith did not say whether this would be part of the long-term study.
A separate project to address road safety will also begin this year in Salmon Lake, picking up where a project completed several years ago left off. The upcoming project will extend from the south end of the lake north to the Placid Lake Fork.
A contract to begin clearing along the causeway has already been awarded and will begin in February.
“You’re going to see clearing happening this spring, but that doesn’t mean road work will happen this spring,” Smith said. “Once we have advanced the design, around the fall, we can start with the reconstruction of Salmon Lake.
Transportation officials also said repair work on the new Beartracks bridge will take place this spring. During the rebuild, crews made accidental cuts to key structural components that need to be repaired.
The parts have been ordered, but no date has been given for the completion of the current project. Missoula County commissioners are pushing for a speedy completion and eventual lifting of current weight restrictions.
“It better be done by June because we have the rededication ceremony scheduled for July 16, and MDT has been involved in that conversation,” Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said.