FeatureIn This IssueTransportation

Supporting Better Travel

The Russell Street Bridge project makes way for safer access to movement

By Sophia Acevedo

Bridges serve as an essential means of providing access to movement. After having plans in the works for decades, the Montana Department of Transportation and City of Missoula completed reconstruction of Russell Street Bridge — an essential bridge in Missoula, Mont. — in July, providing not only a safer bridge and roadway, but better access for all kinds of travel for the Missoula community.

“To accomplish this goal, the project team incorporated trail improvements and under crossings to the project,” said Katie Kietz, communications director of Big Sky Public Relations on behalf of the Montana Department of Transportation.

Built in 1957, Russell Street Bridge ran over the Clark Fork River, wearing out over the decades as the Missoula population grew. With time, it became evident — through a crumbling sidewalk, low guardrails and no space for bicycles — that the bridge needed to be reconstructed which set plans into work, and eventually in April 2018 reconstruction began.

 It feels great to connect with the community over the project and also help the community better connect with Missoula.” –Katie Kietz of Big Sky Public Relatons on behalf of Montana Department of Transportation

A Collaborative Team

According to the official Montana state website, an Environmental Impact Statement process started in 2001 and by 2011, a record of Decision was completed by the Federal Highway Administration. In the Final EIS document, several options were provided for the reconstruction of the Russell Street Bridge, each varying in its number of travel lanes and form of intersection control, and from those one was chosen.

The main goal for the Russell Street Bridge project involved building an entirely new bridge structure,

russell street bridge finished with walkway for pedestrians
The completed bridge boasts a new walkway for pedestrians and cyclists.

including shared-use paths that were along the bridge and adjacent roadway, as well as improving three trail connections.

The Montana Department of Transportation contracted Dick Anderson Construction and worked closely with community organizations such as Missoula Parks and Recreation, Missoula County Public Works Missoula City Council, law enforcement, public schools and many more.

While building was underway, weekly coordination meetings were held and the Montana Department of Transportation would arrive daily on the construction site to make sure the project was meeting its deadlines.

“This was a highly collaborative team,” said Kietz. “This building collaboration and relationship is strong.”

Community response to the project was also positive. The people of Missoula enjoyed hearing about the project and learning more about its progress through the project progress webcam. Community members could also see weekly updates of the construction that were posted on the official Montana state website, detailing important safety reminders and maps noting changes of when trails were detoured.

“We are particularly proud of how the project team kept the public and community informed every step of the way throughout the duration of the project,” said Kietz. “It feels great to connect with the community over the project and also help the community better connect with Missoula.”

Rebuilding and Ensuring Safety
The new Russell Street Bridge ended up being 2.5 times larger than the original bridge.

The department ended up building a structure that was 2.5 times larger than the original, rebuilding the walkway for pedestrians to walk and bike. Since the bridge was also being built wider to incorporate two southbound and northbound lanes, the department had to make changes by relocating utility lines.

At the same time they had to work on demolishing the original bridge while ensuring safety by redirecting frequent trail users. Other improvements included making better signal devices which allowed for a safer, more efficient intersection, and also raising the medians.

Travel also never stopped; the bridge remained opened without any complete closures throughout the project keeping the flow of traffic as steady as possible without creating any dilemmas that cause a disruption for traffic.

“MDT also worked through the Montana winters – not an easy feat,” said Klietz. Easily, winter weather in Missoula can be in the 40s or 30s—a true test of will.

The project was completed for $29 million, staying on budget and on time despite its challenges. Dick Anderson Construction even incorporated reused materials that followed laws and regulations.

A Ribbon-Cutting Ending

On July 8, 2020, the project finished off the project and had a ribbon cutting ceremony under COVID-19 modifications set in pace. The ceremony occurred at the Milwaukee Trail underpass, which called attention to the positive changes that the project had on walkers and cyclists.

Community partners who attended the ceremony wore coverings with branding of the Russell Street Bridge project. They engaged in a ceremonial walk through the pedestrian underpass, making their way to the completed bridge.

Notable speakers like Missoula Mayor John Engen and Montana Department of Transportation Director Mike Tooley were in attendance, giving their remarks about the completion of the project.

Community members came out in July 2020 to celebrate the completion of the Russell Street Bridge project with covid-19 modifications.

“This celebration brought together those who played an integral part in the completion of this project including Dick Anderson Construction, Knife River Construction, and the countless community partners and members who supported the project over the years,” said Klietz.

The City of Missoula has more projects in store. Beginning in the fall, there will be a Higgins Avenue Bridge Rehabilitation Project which similar to the Russell Street Bridge project, will make a safer and more spacious bridge for both vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists alike. Construction for the project will continue throughout most of the year through 2021.

Sophia Acevedo is the Editorial Assistant at American Infrastructure Magazine. She can be reached at sophia@builder.media.