MISSOULA – Montana Department of Transportation engineers say rebuilding of the Higgins Avenue Bridge will extend the lifespan of the span while also addressing serious issues with traffic volumes as well as safety for walkers and bike riders.
MDT has been working on initial plans for rebuilding the span for several years. In fact, the rebuilding of the Madison Street Bridge a couple of years ago was a good preview of how the project will proceed — as well as what the finished bridge will look like.
Engineers are now turning to the public for their input and ideas, with the goal of getting the final design complete, and a contract awarded later this year.
“And then we want to get going in 2020 on reconstructing, or rehabilitating that bridge. And what folks will expect out of that is a lot like we did on Madison,” MDT Missoula District Administrator Ed Toavs told MTN News.
“In that, we’re going to tear off the bridge deck, one half at a time. And we’ll have a new bridge deck back on there. We’ll do a little bit of widening work,” he explained.
There are several objectives to the project. First, there’s extending the life of the bridge for several more decades, with an eye toward handling all that traffic entering and leaving downtown Missoula.
Second, MDT is teaming with the City of Missoula to dramatically change bike and pedestrian access, tapping additional funding to tear out the current sidewalks where it’s hard for two people to pass.
“Because of that partnership, we’re going to have some pretty wide areas on the side of the bridge — on each side of the bridge — that are going to function almost like a shared use path on the bridge,” Toavs said.
“And they’ll allow bike-ped traffic to move safely with nice looking, safe rail. You know, we do get questions now about the existing facility. So we will have that and good connectivity on both sides of the bridge,” he added.
But unlike the Madison Street Bridge where there was plenty of room for equipment access and re-routing of traffic and trails, there’s not a lot of space to work on the Higgins Avenue Bridge — and that has to be taken into account.
“It’s right in the downtown area so it has some pretty significant direct effects to the business community. It certainly has some effects on traffic,” Toavs said. “Effects on recreational activities, Caras Park and things of that nature. And there’s not a lot of room to work in that area.”
Toavs says engineers are working up schedules and the agency plans to work within those restrictions and while the work will be disruptive, he’s confident the state and its partners can come up with a way to minimize impacts as much as possible.
An open house will take place at the Wilma Theater from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. on Tuesday to analyze the ideas being put forward so far. People will also have a chance to offer input to engineers as the design phase gets underway this year.
Click here for more information about the Higgins Avenue Bridge project.
Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News