Status of Maclay Bridge: Missoula County and Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) are apparently pressing forward with their pursuit of a Categorical Exclusion (CE) for design and construction of the South Avenue Bridge. Funding for construction has been obligated for 2022. The most current information we have is that the estimated cost has risen to about $16 million since the October 27th meeting between Missoula County, MDT, and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that was set up to clarify critiques of the environmental documents. Bear in mind, costs were not discussed at the meeting and this estimate is based on environmental documents that are as yet, unapproved.
The October 27th meeting between Missoula County, MDT, and FHWA did not address specific comments about the environmental document or estimated cost, so we are left to guess what courses of action the county will take to resolve them and how that may impact cost estimates. Most of these comments came from FHWA, and they often referenced comments previously submitted by Maclay Bridge Alliance (MBA). It appears that resolution of the 78 comments will be managed to the satisfaction of MDT and FHWA based upon telephone conversations, and/or closed door secret meetings between these agencies. We have to ask, how does this fulfill the requirement for transparency in government?
The official minutes of the October 27th meeting are now posted on www.southavenuebridge.com. Our interpretation of the National Environmental Policy Act is that a CE may be employed when there is NO SIGNIFCANT IMPACT and NO PUBLIC CONTROVERSY, thus public hearings are not required. We have been told there will be a public meeting before Missoula County signs off on the environmental document.