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From Missoula to Salmon Lake, MDT details busy summer

The Montana Department of Transportation’s Missoula District is gearing up for a busy season, with projects ranging from repairs to the Beartracks Bridge in downtown Missoula to the rehabilitation of a tiny route that skirts Salmon Lake.

The project will also involve infrastructure improvements to a problematic portion of Highway 93 south of Lolo, and Missoula County will make a final decision on the future of the Maclay Bridge.

“We have to decide whether or not to proceed with the Section 106 process,” county public works director Shane Stack told commissioners on Monday. “We need some kind of official determination to see whether we want to proceed with Section 106.”

Section 106 mandates that a transportation project be reviewed with historic preservation and public involvement in mind.

For years, the bridge across the Bitterroot River in the Missoula Valley has been a source of contention, with some wishing to keep the one-lane construction in place. Others want a contemporary bridge that can meet today’s traffic needs.

The county is likely to make a formal decision later this month, maybe as early as February 24.

In addition, the Montana Department of Transportation intends to begin a study of Highway 93 from Lolo to Florence in advance of anticipated upgrades to the highway infrastructure. According to Jacquelyn Smith, a preconstruction engineer with MDT, the research will take about 18 months to complete.

“It’ll be data-driven, figuring out what problems are happening out there with the highway and important junctions and what needs to be done to address it,” she said, adding that some of the concerns are already known. “What jumped out to me among all the accidents was the high number of animal collisions on Highway 93.”

Money for animal crossings was included in the recently enacted transportation bill, but Smith did not indicate whether it would be part of the long-term assessment.

A second project addressing highway safety will also begin this year at Salmon Lake, continuing up where a previous project left off some years ago. The proposed project will go from the lake’s southern end north to the Placid Lake turnoff.

Later this month, a contract will be awarded to begin removing trees along the roads.

“You’ll see tree-clearing this spring, but it doesn’t imply roadwork will begin this spring,” Smith said. “Once we’re farther along in the design process, in the autumn, we’ll be able to get started on the Salmon Lake rehabilitation.”

Work on repairing the new Beartracks Bridge will also begin this spring, according to transportation authorities. During the rehabilitation process, personnel caused unintentional cuts to crucial structural components, which must be restored.

The components have been ordered, but no timetable for completion of the current project has been provided. Missoula County commissioners are pushing for a quick completion and ultimate removal of the present weight limitations.

“It had better be done by June because the rededication event is set on July 16, and MDT has been engaged in that dialogue,” Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said.