Maclay Bridge Listing on National Register of Historic Places Bears Significance

Maclay Bridge, listed in the National Register of Historic Places on December 20, 2016, is one of 88 listed historic properties in Missoula, and the only bridge. (The Orange Street underpass is also listed.)

The Washington office of the National Park Service maintains the National Register of Historic Places. The process by which a resource is designated historic is lengthy and precise. Maclay Bridge Alliance consultants Brian Herbel and Janene Caywood wrote the 30-page nomination for Maclay Bridge, which was then approved by the Montana State Historic Preservation Review Board, before being sent on to the Keeper of the National Register for final approval and ultimate listing. To be listed a property must meet one of four National Register criteria and retain historical integrity. Maclay Bridge is listed under National Register Criterion A, for its historical association with the development of Missoula County transportation infrastructure. The bridge retains all seven aspects of historical integrity, which include: integrity of materials, workmanship, design, location, setting, feeling and association.

If Federal Funds or permitting are used in undertakings that impact an eligible or listed property, such as Maclay Bridge, the effects of the undertaking must be assessed to determine if the property will be adversely affected by the undertaking. Examples of adverse effects include alteration of its character-defining features, up to and including physical destruction or damage to all or part of the property.

In a Missoulian article (Missoula’s embattled Maclay bridge added to historic list, January 9, 2017) Erik Dickson, project manager for Missoula County, said listing on the National Register won’t affect plans to remove Maclay Bridge. “All it means is we have to consider the historical impact. It doesn’t mean we have to stop the project, or the bridge has to remain in place,” he said.

It is true that being listed on the Register alone is not reason enough to halt removal of the bridge. It is also true that Federal guidelines require Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to demonstrate that there is no viable or reasonable alternative to removal of the bridge. These two agencies have recommended that Maclay Bridge be removed and replaced with a new bridge on the west end of South Avenue. Many factors play into that decision, including public safety, traffic patterns, environmental concerns, and historical significance. MDT’s plan is to mitigate the loss of Maclay Bridge through large-format photography, engineering documentation, and offering the bridge to a third party for removal to a different location. While this approach meets the technical aspects of mitigation, Maclay Bridge, and its historical association with the development of transportation in Missoula County would be lost forever with MDT’s plan.

Maclay Bridge Alliance does not believe MDT and FHWA have addressed the issue of whether or not there is a reasonable alternative to removal. MBA maintains that the report it commissioned from historic bridge expert Dr. Jai B. Kim titled Maclay Bridge Rehabilitation, convincingly makes the case for safe and cost-effective rehabbing vs. removal of the bridge.