It seems our expectation of major decisions has been waylaid. The county has said they are moving forward with the Categorical Exclusion (CE) on South Avenue Bridge, but the last report from them was that Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) had completed their review of the environmental document and sent it back to Montana Department of Transportation (MDT). MDT was doing an intensive legal review.
Federal Highway Administration reviewed the South Avenue Bridge environmental submittal that is key to approval of the CE, and continuation of the design. Shortly after it had been sent, we wrote a letter to FHWA. The letter outlined reasons that a CE was not appropriate and we provided examples. They responded that they would consider our letter as they conducted their review.
We then wrote a letter addressed to Governor Bullock and Montana Department of Transportation Director, Mike Tooley. We asked them for a meeting to discuss new information regarding Maclay Bridge. The Governor’s office responded and the meeting was held in Helena February 24th.
In attendance were Adam Schafer, Sr. Policy Advisor to the Governor, Mike Tooley, Lynn Zantos and Dwain Kailey from MDT. MBA was represented by Directors Fred Stewart and Bob Schweitzer, Member Sharon Sterbis, and Political Advisor Jim Parker. As the meeting closed, we felt that it had been a good meeting. We had proposed two options for them, 1) conduct a full EIS in which they give full consideration to rehabilitation of Maclay Bridge, and 2) go forward with a Categorical Exclusion for the rehabilitation of Maclay Bridge. We explained that the county may be more amenable to the CE approach for rehabilitation if they did not have to repay the fees and expenses committed to date on South Avenue Bridge. Our estimate is that over $700,000 has been spent to date on the project. We left them with a request that they consider our presentation and advise us of their decision.
We have received no communication from MDT in spite of their expectation that they would reach a decision by early March. Several weeks ago, Fred wrote a letter to Dwain Kailey asking if they had come to a conclusion. He responded that they were undergoing a thorough legal review, but their contract legal expert had other obligations and could not get to it immediately.
The County sponsored public meetings (put on by the consultants) have received large turnouts of citizens — mostly those opposing the new South Avenue Bridge. We hope for continued large turnouts at the upcoming public meetings. That way, when the commissioners are faced with a decision of how to proceed, once they receive the environmental document, your presence and voices will be seen and heard demanding a REHAB OPTION for Maclay Bridge as part of the alternatives to be considered.
Several hundred people in front of the commissioners when they are making decisions will clearly show the level of opposition to the proposed South Avenue Bridge project. Not just “a few NIMBYs at the end of South Avenue”, as characterized by the supporters of the new bridge.
MBA will notify you as soon as we have an update on project status, and when the next public meeting will be held. In the meantime, feel free to call MBA with questions you may have.