HELENA – The Highway 12 viaduct entering East Helena has been the scene of some horrible vehicle crashes over the years, including several fatal head-on collisions.
With three fatals recorded on the viaduct earlier this year, Montana Department of Transportation officials announced a project to install concrete jersey barriers on the center of the road to prevent further crashes.
“And there are many accidents, many fatalities in that area,” saidLewis and Clark Sheriff Leo Dutton. “So they (MDT) are going to do something, it’s just a matter of when.”
Now, due to design changes brought about by public input, the finished product, which is different than originally proposed, won’t be completed until 2019.
MDT officials are planning on building a raised median on the center-line of the viaduct, similar to what you’d find on Helena’s Euclid Avenue.
“And while it won’t absolutely stop a vehicle, it will give that visual cue that there is separation and it is, I don’t want to say an impediment, but it is a deterrent for vehicles from crossing over the center-line,” said MDT Chief Engineer Dwane Kailey.
The raised concrete barriers originally proposed by MDT caused public concern regarding entering and exiting Winslow Avenue.
“There’s an access point just to the east side of the bridge,” said Kailey. “Accommodating that, yet still protecting median barrier for the traveling public is very challenging.”
Kailiey says those design changes have delayed the $2-3 million project until 2019.
Other safety features for the viaduct are moving forward.
“We’re also looking at adding in some lighting…illumination for the roadway,” says Kailey.“We’re also looking at putting in on some skid resistance for the bridge as well.”
Kailey said that includes an epoxy solution mixed with small gravel that will give tires more traction during bad weather.
Those changes can’t come soon enough for Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton.
“It’s time to do something.”
Dutton, who began his career as an EMT in 1984, said he’s responded to a number of fatal crashes on that small section of Highway 12.
In the meantime, plastic reflective delineators are set to be installed on the centerline of the roadway. A visual reminder to the 7,000 vehicles a day that cross over the viaduct.
A different type of marker seen on the viaduct is a grim reminder of past tragedies on the structure. Ten white crosses mark fatal crashes on both ends of the concrete bridge that rises above Montana Rail Link railroad tracks.
Kailey said a recent MDT safety study showed those crashes were due mainly to driver behavior.
The problem, according to Sheriff Dutton, is drinking and driving.
“The ones that I’ve went on, the majority, from my recollection, has been alcohol-related accidents, where someone fails to negotiate that slight curve, comes into that other lane and kills people.”
“Drivers have got to operate their vehicles in the appropriate manner,” Kailey added.