MDT wrapping up record-breaking construction season in Western MT

Posted at 3:45 PM, Nov 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-05 18:30:47-05

MISSOULA – One of the busiest summers for construction the Missoula region has seen in decades is wrapping up. But the economic impact of this season is likely to last well into next year, with state paying for nearly $100 million worth of work in 2018.

From Frenchtown to downtown, it seems like construction crews were busy everywhere in Missoula County this year. And it wasn’t just your imagination. The Missoula office of the Montana Department of Transportation has worked it’s way what appears to be an unofficial record, overseeing an astonishing amount of construction for 2018.

“You know, in Missoula Valley alone, all the way from Frenchtown out past Bonner, down to Lolo, up to Evaro and Arlee, we’re looking at around $95 million of highway work in this Missoula Valley area,” said MDT District Administrator Ed Toavs. “And certainly in my career, over three different districts, I’ve never seen us be under that much work at one time in any one area.”

Those projects ranged from the high profile, like finally getting the first phase of replacement for the Russell Street Bridge underway, to installing a complicated “double roundabout” at Van Buren, to complete dozens of intersection improvements to improve ADA access and safety.

It’s a season of accomplishment not just limited to Missoula. In fact, Toavs says if you expand out to the entire district, the Missoula office of MDT was responsible for up to $180 million in contracts going into the season. That means this was easily the biggest investment in local infrastructure since Interstate 90 was built through Western Montana in the early 70s.

“You would argue the dollar amount is equal to the days of the interstate,” Toavs said. “But when the interstate was built it was a lot like the Kalispell Bypass. It was a brand new road. It wasn’t disrupting neighborhoods, business communities, already pre-existing transportation systems.”

It hasn’t just been about building roads either. Because of the volume of work, MDT contracted with public relations firms to try and keep people better informed about all the construction, employing help from the other jurisdictions involved.

“You know, just kudos to our partners at the City of Missoula, Missoula County for working with us to get these projects done. Because they range from projects on the Interstate, to the national highway system, to bridge projects, to safety projects and secondary highway projects. So hats of to the partners that helped us get all of these projects done all at once.”

And while construction is winding down now, much of the work such as the Russell Street Bridge project will last into 2019, with other projects following right behind. So 2019 is looking nearly as busy. And that’s good for roads, drivers and the economy.

Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News