MISSOULA — Load limits will remain while crews repair some damage to the Beartracks Bridge in Missoula and while the bridge rebuild has had its problems, state officials are pleased with the progress on the complicated project.
The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) imposed weight limits on the bridge last week after inspections showed the "girders", the big steel parts that connect the major components of the bridge weren't in very good shape. MDT imposed a load limit of 10-tons as a precaution and ordered some repairs.
But now, engineers have discovered the problem is more extensive. MDT says while contractors were demolishing the old bridge deck, shallow cuts were "inadvertently made" into the bridge girders.
That means MDT and Sletten Construction are going to have to make additional repairs. Missoula District Administrator Bob Vosen says the state fully acknowledges the cuts are "setbacks", but the state is "committed the delivering a safe, fully rehabilitated bridge" that can handle all loads.
The girders represent more of a problem than the "hot sidewalk" that was solved with a coat of reflective paint a few weeks ago. Yet even with the challenges, MDT is pleased with the progress on saving the bridge, especially to see how the wider design is working.
"Yeah, it's really amazing. Just the amount of capacity that that added" notes MDT Missoula District Construction Engineer John Schmidt. "You know 'cause we went from closed with the four feet only on one side to now we've got the 13 feet on only one side. But just that 13 feet compared to the four is astonishing to how much more people can use it and really get around."
Going into the rebuild, there had been a lot of concerns about undertaking such a massive project downtown, right in the middle of the busy summer season. But Schmidt says everyone's cooperation is making it work.
"We really appreciate the partners, you know with the downtown and the Caras Park being right there. And it's going well and everybody seems to be enjoying it. You know we got the the West side open and it's provided that great access down into the park and everybody really been able to utilize that and get in and out and use the park."
And although the girder questions could lead to some delays, MDT remains hopeful of getting the full span reopened by the end of the year, with some cleanup work next spring.
"There's some cleanup work in the spring of 2022," Schmidt explains. "We have to clean up the parking lot under the bridge there on the north side. Put an overlay on the concrete, some striping, those kinds of things."
Structural engineers will be doing some additional non-destructive testing on the bridge "stringers" next week and MDT will update the schedule as repair plans are completed.