MISSOULA- When construction starts on the new Van Buren interchange next week it will mark not only the second installation of a roundabout at an I-90 off-ramp in Western Montana but also a significant change in what the busy junction looks like.
Starting Monday, crews will begin the initial prep work for the Van Buren project, the second phase of a larger plan to reconfigure two of Missoula’s 1970s era interchanges to match today’s traffic.
As with the roundabout that was completed at Orange Street last year, Van Buren’s traffic will also funnel through not just one roundabout, but two. One on each side of the freeway. Engineers say the roundabout will be more efficient, not just for cars, but pedestrians and bikes too…
"That’s a major interstate interchange. And we get a lot of traffic and there can be truck to light car. But then you also have this commuter traffic, specifically on bicycle, that might be going to the university or to the downtown district. And we feel that the roundabouts, those were the superior traffic control devices to put at that location," said MDT District Engineer Ed Toavs.
The project will also see the installation of "sound walls" between the freeway and the Lower Rattlesnake neighborhood. They’re common elsewhere and were used in similar situations on the Kalispell Bypass, but they’re new for Missoula and I-90.
"We went through a process of sound mitigation. And part of that process is to ask the first two tiers of houses, or the first two rows of houses, the owners, is this something you would agree with," Toavs said. "Do you want the sound protection? And we went out twice and both times it was unanimous, ‘yes, we do.’ And so that’s in the project."
Toavs wants people to be ready for how the walls will change the look of the entrance to the Rattlesnake.
"You’ll get the noise protection from the interstate, with these sound walls. But you will now have these concrete, twelve to fourteen foot on average, high walls that weren’t there before," Toavs said.
"So, that’ll be a change. It’s something that the property owners in the front really wanted, that sound mitigation. And it will provide some sound mitigation but it will also be a landscaping change," he added.
MDT engineers will host a public open house on Tuesday so people can see the latest designs and ask questions about the project, which is targeted to be mostly completed by this fall. The open house will be from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. on April 17 at Missoula Children’s Theater.
Click here for more information on the Van Buren Street project.