MISSOULA — Missoula County commissioners are accepting a staff recommendation to remove the historic Maclay Bridge over the Bitterroot River if the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) proceeds with plans to build a new crossing on South Avenue.
Acceptance of the recommendation Thursday is the latest development in a debate that stretches back to the 1990s. Recently, the county has been waiting for MDT to formalize plans for the new bridge. But the question of what happens to old, narrow one-lane span remained unresolved.
Now, commissioners are accepting a Public Works recommendation to remove the bridge if the South Avenue Bridge is built. That would cost $350,000 but MDT would foot the bill. Engineers say it could cost nearly $4-million to rehab the old bridge, and that would solve flooding concerns on the river.
During an online hearing, members of the Maclay Bridge Alliance accused the county of circumventing the environmental review process. But commissioners noted that process is still underway, and the responsibility of the state.
"The question before us isn't which bridge should go, stay or go. It's if, IF the South Avenue Bridge goes what should be done with the Maclay Bridge," County Commissioner Josh Slotnick commented.
"And then considering along that matrix all those criteria. Liability, cost, what's going to happen to the river, flooding, etc. It seemed obvious to me that if the South Avenue Bridge is built, the best thing for the river is to have the Maclay bridge go," Slotnick continued.
Engineers say even with the decision, the county must still go through a public process to defend the removal because of the bridge's historical designation.