Why Are Missoula Bridges Plagued With Problems?

by Travis Mateer

What is so difficult about building bridges in Missoula?

Whether it’s an old bridge, like the functionally obsolete Maclay Bridge, or new ones, like the one I christened Missoula’s bridge to nowhere, there are LOTS of issues with bridges in Missoula.

The most recent problem being reported about a bridge in Missoula is the weight limit of the renamed Higgins bridge (now called Beartracks bridge). The Montana Department of Transportation just issued the limit of ONLY 10 tons, which means school buses and city buses won’t be able to use this new bridge.

From the link:

Most buses and big loads won’t be able to drive over the new Beartracks Bridge on Higgins Avenue in downtown Missoula. That’s because the Montana Department of Transportation just put in a 10-ton weight limit.

It sounds like a lot. But we checked the average weight of a school bus full of kids. That’s about 17 tons. We found estimates that the average city bus weighs between 25,000 and 40,000 pounds.

Officials say Mountain Line, Missoula’s public bus service, adjusted its routes to accommodate existing stops.

Is this going to be the permanent weight limit? If so, this seems like a VERY BIG problem for our infrastructure capacity. I’ll also point out this is the SECOND problem with this new bridge. Earlier this summer, before the heat dome descended, portions of the bridge’s surface were getting so hot (over 140 degrees) that signs had to be put up warning people about the risk of injury, especially for canine companions.

While Beartracks bridge has issues with the heat, Missoula’s pedestrian bridge over Reserve Street had issues with cold. Specifically, when temperatures dipped below 20 degrees, the bridge would become slick and dangerous. This required a $30,000 dollar fix:

The South Reserve Street pedestrian bridge in Missoula has an issue — it gets too icy in the winter for people to walk safely across it.

From September to May the bridge is subjected to frost, and the deck’s current heating and sensor system can’t keep up when temperatures dip below 20 degrees.

On Wednesday, Missoula’s Parks and Recreation Department approved fixing the bridge’s defrosting system.

It will cost the city $30,000 but is expected to help lower the electric cost to run the system and will not need as much maintenance from staff.

The bridge to nowhere I mentioned above was initially built to create more use of the West Broadway Island by community members. The hope was that community use would drive out the drug abusers and homeless residents of the area. Instead, when the bridge made it easier to establish a homeless encampment, the whole area was shut down for six weeks.

Well, it’s been over six weeks, and the bridge providing access is still closed to the general public.

Another bridge with a strong homeless interface is the Reserve Street bridge. One idea that is moving forward is building a more significant fence to keep people from hopping over. I fail to see how this will prevent people from accessing this area, but I doubt a high probability of failure will stop money from being spent on this effort:

Nearly two decades after tents began popping up under the Reserve Street Bridge, the Montana Department of Transportation is beginning to survey boundaries for a fence.

“We will be installing a fence along the Reserve Street corridor through there,” said Bob Vosen, MDT’s Missoula District administrator. “We’re not sure what the time frame is yet, but we’re trying to get some stakes in the ground.”

So, in summary, Missoula is building bridges that can’t handle heat and cold, or accommodate heavy loads, like school buses, but they can provide easier access for addicts and homeless people to congregate, defecate and die outside.

What an amazing legacy for a 4-term Mayor.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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4 Responses to Why Are Missoula Bridges Plagued With Problems?

  1. James Kappel says:

    One would hope this a temporary construction detour for large vehicles.
    They must have discovered (or caused) structural weakening.
    “why” can’t the bridge carry heavy vehicles? Design flaw, construction accident, screw up?

    The article doesn’t give much info, but my guess is they will address the issue and once construction is complete, large trucks will be able to use the bridge again
    what about Fire Trucks? A average fire truck weighs 15 tons. Chew on that. This is not good.
    The new Missoula rural tanker is a 15 ton truck.

    The Bridge was to meet the needs and objectives and community desires to maintain and ideally improve connectivity, safety, accessibility, and capacity.
    • Provide structurally adequate bridge that will deliver long-term performance.
    • Preserve existing bridge capacity for all users, at a minimum.
    • Accommodate non-motorized connectivity

    • I’m assuming it’s temporary, otherwise, to this layman, it seems like a huge screw up.

      Also, I can’t remember where I heard this, but I seem to recall a rumor that the heating elements at the pedestrian bridge were damaged because they were left on and burnt out.

  2. I am hearing reports ANOTHER fire is spreading at the homeless camps around the Reserve Street bridge right now, lovely.

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