MISSOULA – When the state begins rebuilding the Higgins Avenue Bridge in a couple of years it will be a major upgrade to make the span safer for decades to come — but it will also make the bridge much more user-friendly.
Plans call for rebuilding the Higgins Avenue Bridge in 2020. The span provides a critical link between Downtown Missoula and the commercial and residential areas to the south, but like the other bridges across the Clark Fork River, it’s also getting old and needs a complete retrofit.
As with the Madison Bridge project, the plans call for replacing the bridge deck, one side at a time, with a finished design very similar to that new bridge. But more than cars will benefit from the new span.
"And what people will see is a nice, brand new deck. But they will also see some good, connected, wide pedestrian areas on the side to connect both sides of the river. And the reason for that is very obvious. I mean it’s narrow, it’s not user-friendly, it’s old. It’s outdated," Montana Department of Transportation District Engineer Ed Toavs.
It also can’t keep up with the increase in both vehicle, and pedestrian and cycle traffic, especially when there are community events in the area.
But this project will be tricky. While at the Madison Street Bridge there was more room for equipment to be staged and the old bridge deck to be demolished, at Higgins space is at a premium. The construction will have to work around Caras Park and the trails — and parking adjacent to the bridge will be impacted.
"You know we’re trying to be a little careful with that because there are some parking spaces underneath. But some of that is going to be disrupted. One reason is because of safety. While we’re working overhead we simply can’t have vehicles parked underneath," Toavs said.
The plans call for getting the $11.6 million project underway for the 2020 construction season and there’s some hope of getting everything done that year.
"If we can let that contract early enough there may be a possibility to do that in one construction season. If not, it will be two construction seasons, one half at a time. Similar to what we saw with Madison," Toavs said.
MDT and city officials will explain what’s ahead for the project, answer questions and hear suggestions on the Higgins Bridge replacement on Wednesday from 3 p.m. until 8 p.m. at the Wilma Theater.