On The Bridges You’ll Be Driving, Walking, And Biking Over This Black Friday

by Travis Mateer

One of the value-factors I know I bring to readers of Zoom Chron is analysis on how the local media landscape functions to omit, downplay, or otherwise manipulate readers and viewers in order to serve unspoken agendas. Oftentimes my focus is the Missoula Current, but today I’m going to compare two Missoulian articles and a KGVO article to see the differences in reporting as the target for completion of the renamed Higgins Bridge (now Beartracks Bridge) is moved once again.

In a Missoulian article on November 17th, the title claims work is “wrapping up” on Beartracks Bridge, but when one reads the article, you can see how some strategic moves allowed for things to happen at strategic times (emphasis mine):

Winter weather descending on Missoula is forcing the conclusion of a busy summer construction season, but not before two major local infrastructure projects — the Beartracks Bridge and the Mullan BUILD roundabouts — reach temporary completion.

One lane of traffic in each direction on the Beartracks Bridge is expected to open before the Thanksgiving holiday next week, according to Matt Straub with the Montana Department of Transportation.

“We’re focusing on the right fix at the right time,” Straub said.

For MDT, that meant opening the bridge temporarily in October, then disrupting traffic northbound again to facilitate repairs.

Hmmm, what happened in October? Did a certain politician need a bridge open for a political backdrop before the November election?

While Dave Strohmaier didn’t have to experience ANY disruptions to the use of this bridge for political purposes, the general public isn’t as lucky. You have to read further down to discover this bridge won’t actually be finished until spring.

Once Beartracks opens next week, it will remain open with only a small interruption this winter.

“We will have one day of minor traffic impact in December or January,” said Straub.

Then, the bridge will stay open until the spring, when another week of traffic impacts is planned. Straub said to expect those impacts in April or May, and he emphasized his appreciation for the public’s patience throughout the rehabilitation project.

I hope the Montana Department of Transportation appreciates how the Missoulian is helping them out with damage control, since this bridge was supposed to be done MONTHS ago, and has faced all kinds of problems. You don’t get any of this context with ANOTHER Missoulian article, published on 11/22. This article’s title reads as follows: Beartracks Bridge work takes break. Here’s the entirety of the article:

Construction work on the Beartracks Bridge over the Clark Fork River will pause at noon Wednesday as crews take a Thanksgiving break.

Work will resume on Monday. 

“Even though workers will not be present, we encourage everyone to take it slow through the project area so they make it safely to festivities with family and friends,” Montana Department of Transportation Missoula administrator Bob Vosen said on Tuesday. 

The bridge carrying Higgins Avenue over the river will have two-way traffic and no weight restrictions during the break. Speed restrictions and constricted driving lanes will remain in place. Motorists are encouraged to plan for slow traffic crossing the bridge and to consider alternative routes.

When work resumes, crews will install a temporary structure under its deck to replace some plate structures. That may involve one day’s interruption of bridge traffic, Vosen said.

Do you see anything in this article about the NEW completion date being sometime in the spring? Neither do I.

To get a more accurate impression of what’s happening with this clusterfuck of a bridge, KGVO published an article on the same day as the Missoulian article, but with a much more accurate title, which reads Higgins Avenue Beartracks Bridge Won’t Be Completed Until Spring. From the link:

“Our major delays were caused by supply chain issues and weather,” he said. “Some unexpected repairs came up during the reconstruction of the bridge that caused these delays, and then those delays were fairly further exacerbated by supply chain issues and material availability.”

Straub said unexpected extra expenses were incurred during the bridge reconstruction project due to a variety of issues.

“There was some additional work that was unanticipated during the rehabilitation of the bridge, and that work drove up some of the costs,” he said. “These were costs that would have been figured in the original total had we known that they were issues.”

I appreciate KGVO getting MDT on the record about the bridge’s delays, even if the answer is less than satisfactory. At least there’s an acknowledgment of the screwups and other issues, like the now ubiquitous claim of SUPPLY CHAIN issues adding time to any construction project.

I’ll have more on bridges in the coming week, so stay tuned. And stay safe out there as you move around the valley.

Thanks for reading!

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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