WOLF CREEK AND JEFFERSON CITY — If you’re in Helena and have already started planning your summer road trips, you will hit construction taking Interstate 15 heading northbound and southbound.
The Montana Department of Transportation started two construction projects on I-15 earlier this month, one north of Helena that starts approximately five miles south of Wolf Creek and extends north to the Augusta interchange. The second project is south of Helena and will focus on the repair and rehabilitation of 12 bridges starting near Montana City through Jefferson City.
The Wolf Creek Project, which is expected to be completed by 2025, has already started as crews began laying out cones and removing markings through the area in the middle of April.
“By repairing this area, now we're going to minimize maintenance costs in the long-term future. Also we’ll be adding new signage, new reflectors, new pavement markings to also enhance the safety of this corridor,” said Kas Manderle, MDT Construction Project Manager.
As of Friday, traffic was merged from two lanes to one on both sides of the highway in the project area, but soon crossover lanes will be installed to combine north and southbound traffic on one side of the highway so the other side can be worked on.
“It'll be one lane in each direction on the northbound side of the median barrier rail. So two, 12-foot travel lanes, one in each direction will be open. Right now we have a set speed limit, 55 miles an hour and you will be able to travel freely through the project during the entire time,” said Manderle.
The Wolf Creek Project is plotted out in three stages, in 2023 construction will take place on the southbound lanes with traffic flowing through the northbound lanes, in 2024 the northbound lanes will be worked on with traffic using the southbound lanes, and in 2025 crews will return to chip seal and apply final pavement markings. The project is expected to cost $39.2 million dollars, with 87% of the funding coming from the Federal government.
To the south of Helena on I-15, MDT will be doing various levels of repair and rehabilitation on bridges ranging from just north of Montana City to the bridge that connects to the highway’s offramps in Jefferson City.
Construction has already started on the Jefferson City bridge with a portion of the west side of the bridge already demolished.
Dave Cunningham, MDT’s Butte District construction engineer, said some bridges will see a “full deck replacement” while others will only require preservation efforts like crack sealing and a new barrier rail that complies with new requirements.
Similar to the Wolf Creek project, traffic will be moved from two lanes in each direction to the other on some portions of the highway where speed limits will be dropped so vehicles can move safely through the construction zone.
“We'll have some restrictions as far as down to 45 [miles per hour] through the crossovers and then booting back up and they'll be able to go 65 [miles per hour] through the entire project after that,” said Cunningham.
The bridge project cost $11.6 million and is expected to be completed by October 2024.
Both projects will have restrictions for trucks hauling wide loads. Manderle noted that the Wolf Creek Project will close to passenger traffic from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. on weekdays to accommodate wide-load traffic, Cunningham said a set time for wide-load traffic has not been released for the bridge project but will work in tandem with other projects to prevent excess stoppages for wide-load carriers along the route.