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MDT to rehab Orange Street underpass; County urges project to go further

Orange Street Underpass
Posted at 4:16 PM, Jun 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-07 18:17:00-04

MISSOULA — The Montana Department of Transportation is weighing a rehabilitation of the Orange Street underpass, saying a condition study last year recommended repair work to the tunnel’s concrete elements.

Missoula County is urging MDT to think outside the box and work with local government to perhaps go beyond a basic rehabilitation. No timeline has been proposed.

“One thing we as county government can help with is look for and lobby for additional funding,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “I don’t want our vision of what is possible to be so constricted based upon an estimate of available funding and have a project we’re going to have to live with for decades.”

Jacquelyn Smith with MD on Monday said the agency completed a report on the tunnel last year and had the details finalized this year. The results recommended a rehabilitation of the underpass, at least to the tunnel’s concrete elements.

Pieces of the tunnel have been chipping away for years and in some areas, the iron underpinnings have been exposed. Smith said MDT will nominate the project for funding.

“We’re working with the city and railroad on that,” Smith said. “We’re figuring out more specifics on what the scope is going to look like, what concrete elements we’re going to address, and how the funding is going to be handled for that project.”

The tunnel serves as a vital north-south link in Missoula connecting motorists to one of the city’s only interchanges at I-90. Two years ago, MDT completed a roundabout at the interchange, though the tunnel remains in poor condition.

The underpass is also tight with little headroom. In the past, high-profile vehicles have become stuck with the low clearance.

Strohmaier, a member of the Missoula Metropolitan Planning Organization, urged MDT to work with the city and county on possibly doing more than concrete rehabilitation. Smith said that would cost money that MDT doesn’t have.

“There’s a trillion dollars in infrastructure being debated in Washington, D.C., as we speak,” Strohmaier said. “Maybe a broader project was considered and dismissed for funding, but I would encourage us all to think as expansively as possible and look for the funding to make it happen. This is something the City of Missoula has some interest in also.”