HELENA – The Montana Department of Transportation has wrapped up major construction work for the year in the ongoing project to improve safety on the East Helena Viaduct.
The project area covers just over two miles of U.S. Highway 12 between Helena and East Helena. This year, crews have installed a raised median and a three-foot concrete barrier between the eastbound and westbound lanes. They also repaired the bridge’s driving surface and applied a friction treatment to improve traction.
There is still some work to be done. MDT will install improved lighting along the viaduct and do additional friction treatment. Rich Hibl, an MDT district construction engineer, said some of the remaining work could start in the winter, if weather allows. It is expected to be finished by the spring.
According to Montana Highway Patrol data, 187 crashes occurred on this stretch of highway between January 2005 and March 2017. Two of them caused deaths, while four caused incapacitating injuries.
MDT leaders said the greatest danger came from drivers drifting out of their lane and into oncoming traffic. They hope the work they’ve done will greatly improve safety.
“Our hope is that it would help maybe slow traffic down, because now there’s a raised median in the middle,” said Roy Peterson, a traffic and safety engineer for MDT. “As they traverse the area, our hope is that people would be a little more cautious of the roadway and be able to reduce the number of crashes through that corridor.”
MDT used a “zipper merge” during construction – meaning they asked drivers to remain in their lane until they got to the point where traffic was reduced to a single lane. Leaders said, in many cases, drivers try to move into the open lane well before the construction zone starts. They said that can lead to greater congestion.
Leaders said the merge was a success on this project, and they plan to use it on future projects around the state.
Leaders acknowledged this project created a lot of disruption for drivers, and they thanked them for their understanding.
“We appreciate the patience that the public had,” said Hibl.