MISSOULA – Missoula County commissioners plan to meet as soon as they can with the consultants working on the South Avenue Bridge project to see if there are ways to answer the county’s questions about proceeding with the replacement of the Maclay Bridge.
That course of action comes after a special joint meeting in Helena with state and federal highway officials. The commissioners had placed a hold on the project last month after concerns surfaced over the years-long effort to replace the old Maclay Bridge on the west side of Missoula.
Commissioners were able to take those questions directly to the Montana Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration officials in Helena on Wednesday. They were clearly told the county would have to pay back the $1 million invested in the project so far if commissioners decide to go in a different direction.
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“Our main questions were about what we are calling a decision making space. Who ultimately gets to decide which option is built on this? And we did get some clarity,” Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick said. “My sense of it is, what they said was, we’re the ultimate ones who decide. The commissioners. If we don’t decide to go with the option that they’re looking towards right now we would have to pay back the money spent.”
Commissioners told MDT and the federal officials they wanted to make sure all concerns and ideas about whether the project is a bridge replacement — or a new bridge — the traffic impacts, and consideration of rehabilitation of the old bridge have been addressed.
“There was a lack of consensus in documents. And a lack of consensus in quotes. So we really needed to hear from the horse’s mouth, whose obligations are what,” Slotnick told MTN News.
MDT officials told the commissioners it was “appropriate” for the county to ask those questions, and that Missoula County has the right to take a different approach. But that has to be done in cooperation with the project consultants. Slotnick says commissioners will pursue a meeting with those engineers as soon as possible.
“And that was really great information for all of us. That we weren’t sure. Who is this up to and who decides which information is right? How does this all work? Now, we’ve got a sense of the process,” Slotnick said.
Commissioners were also warned there’s a 10-year window for getting the project accomplished using the federal money, and the project has already been underway for more than half that time.