MISSOULA — Missoula County commissioners say a request for the state to take over sole management of the South Avenue Bridge project should free up public works staff to tackle other projects.
The letter approved on Tuesday represents a significant shift in efforts to build the controversial bridge on Missoula's west side.
"Twenty of twenty one off system bridge projects that are actively going on right now are managed by MDT,” said Missoula County commissioner, Josh Slotnick. “We have a pretty talented Public Works staff and they could handle it, but 20 out of 21 bridges MDT is doing."
Under the original agreement between Missoula County and the Montana Department of Transportation, the county would play a more active role in building the new bridge on South Avenue, replacing the aging Maclay Bridge.
But last year, the current commissioners expressed concerns over that arrangement, and details like traffic and environmental impacts.
That means MDT would be the lead agency, charged with bringing the bridge to completion, leaving commissioners to allow staff to focus on other projects.
"They'll come back to us at certain points in the process and say, comment, what do you think? Does this work? So they're just going to take over management of it,: said Slotnick. “Which I really hopes happens so it can free us up to do things like the Mullan project.
Slotnick says while the county will be turning over project management to the state, the county still intends to play a very active role, especially when it comes to analyzing the environmental impacts from the proposed bridge.
Regardless of who is managing the project, it could be years before the South Avenue Bridge is constructed, with some of the latest estimates as far away as 2024.