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What is the Higgins Avenue Bridge project?

The Higgins Avenue Bridge provides access to the heart of downtown for students, residents and visitors to the Garden City. Whether you're heading to the Hip Strip on foot, cruising to Out to Lunch on your bike, or driving to a meeting downtown, the Higgins Avenue Bridge is a key connector for all modes of transportation.

The Montana Department of Transportation is rehabilitating the Higgins Avenue Bridge to make this a more spacious and safer bridge for everyone. Construction will begin in October of 2020 and is anticipated to be substantially completed by the end of 2021.

Why is the Higgins Avenue Bridge being rehabilitated?

The Higgins Avenue Bridge is deteriorating. Rehabilitation is necessary to extend the life of the bridge. The deck concrete is distressed and needs to be replaced, the steel structure elements need repair and/or replacement, and the entire steel portion of the bridge needs a new protective coating of paint.

The bridge now carries far more bicyclists and pedestrians than can be comfortably accommodated. While the bridge is safe for use now, MDT has prioritized rehabilitation of the bridge so it remains in safe condition.

Work includes replacing the concrete deck, repairing and replacing parts of the steel superstructure, patching and repair of the concrete supports, and modifying the bridge to accommodate more pedestrian usage.

The Montana Department of Transportation, Federal Highways Administration and the City of Missoula are committed to good stewardship of the Higgins Avenue Bridge.

Is the bridge still safe?

Yes. The Higgins Avenue Bridge is inspected every two years. The Higgins Avenue Bridge project will make necessary improvements to the bridge long before it would become unsafe for the public to use.

Who is leading this project?

The Montana Department of Transportation, in partnership with Federal Highways Administration, and the City of Missoula have been planning this project for about 5 years. The first Memorandum of Understanding, a document intended to help shape the path forward for this project, was forged in 2016.

In 2014, a planning study performed by MDT also recommended the Higgins Avenue Bridge undergo rehabilitation. City of Missoula Public Works and the Parks Department have been involved in project planning.

MDT will manage the construction process. Sletten Construction is the primary contractor.

How much will this cost?

This contract was awarded to Sletten Construction for $16.5 million. The City of Missoula is contributing $1.7 million to this major bridge rehabilitation project to improve bicycle and pedestrian facilities on the Higgins Avenue Bridge, increasing capacity and upgrading options for everyone to access downtown. Additionally, City funds will be invested in safety improvements and other important public use features on the project.

Who is paying for the bridge to be rehabbed?

The Montana Department of Transportation is funding a large portion of the project, with the City of Missoula providing $1.7 million.

The majority of the funding will be provided by the Surface Transportation Program Bridge, which is a federal funding category that may be used to preserve or improve conditions and performance on non-National Highway System federal-aid routes. Federal funds make up about 86% of project funding, with MDT contributing the additional 13%.

That 13% will come from the Highway State Special Revenue (HSSR) account.

Who pays for the ongoing maintenance for this facility?

The City of Missoula entered into an agreement with MDT for maintenance. After the bridge is complete, all routine maintenance will be managed by the City of Missoula. That includes sidewalks, landscaping, and winter maintenance. However, ongoing future bridge inspections and structural maintenance will be directly managed by MDT.

When will construction start?

Construction is scheduled to begin on October 5, 2020.

How long will this take?

The current schedule has construction lasting about 18 months; however, that is still being finalized. Weather, material availability and other factors can cause changes to the construction schedule. Bridge construction is scheduled to wrap up in 2021, with some finishing work that may take place in the spring of 2022.

Will traffic be detoured during construction?

MDT intends to keep traffic and pedestrian access open at all times. Bridge closures would be very rare and very short if they are necessary.

One side of Higgins Avenue will be closed to traffic while construction occurs on the opposite side. That will maintain one lane of traffic in each direction during most construction activities. All construction activities are designed to minimize impacts to traffic, the downtown area, and events in Caras Park as much as possible. However, some impacts are unavoidable.

Cyclists are encouraged to choose alternate routes as the existing bike lane will be used for motor vehicle travel to accommodate two-way traffic across the bridge.

Motorists can expect some congestion and slowed traffic during all 18 months of construction. Pedestrians may also want to plan a few additional minutes of travel, especially in the first 6-8 months of construction. During the second phase of construction, pedestrians will have access to a completed 13-foot shared use path on the west side of the bridge.

The MDT team continues to work with the Downtown Association, the Farmer's Market, and other groups hosting events in Caras Park to be sure every event is safe and enjoyable during construction.

How will community events and activities that have traditionally taken place on or near the bridge be impacted?

MDT is working with partners from across the city to minimize impacts to various activities on the Higgins Bridge. Community events that have historically taken place on the bridge will be affected, and MDT plans an aggressive construction schedule to keep construction impacts to a minimum for these events.

Does the Higgins Avenue Bridge really need to be replaced?

The bridge deck has serious deterioration on both the top and bottom of the deck. The bridge is due to be rehabilitated, and this project will facilitate those structural improvements.

Though there are parts of the bridge that need repair, the abutments and piers are still in good condition. With these good bones and a careful rehabilitation of the structure, the bridge will serve the Missoula community for years to come.

Please contact the project communications manager, Katie Klietz, for a tour of areas of concern.

How will bike and pedestrian access be improved on the bridge?

Through previous studies and a great deal of public input, the City of Missoula and MDT prioritized the improvement of non-motorized facilities on Higgins Avenue Bridge by widening the sidewalks and bicycle lanes.

If you've walked across the Higgins Avenue bridge, you know that it can be a tight squeeze. In fact, the current sidewalk is not wide enough to accommodate the passage of two wheelchairs or strollers. The current sidewalks on both sides of the existing bridge have about 4 feet of space for pedestrians.

Currently, bicycles are prohibited from crossing the bridge on the sidewalks and are required to use the 4-foot bike lanes directly adjacent to the driving lanes.

The area for pedestrians and cyclists will be widened to accommodate a shared bicycle-pedestrian space of 12 feet on the east side and 13 feet on the west side. The non-motorized space would be physically separated from vehicle traffic by a barrier. Striping and colored pavement will be used to delineate these areas.