Design of the South Avenue Bridge to replace Maclay Bridge has progressed to the point of agency review. What was anticipated as a fast moving stream of information and events leading to a Categorical Exclusion (CE) to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has seemingly bogged down. The CE would declare “No significant impact” by construction of the replacement bridge, but deliberations on this issue have gone behind air tight administrative doors, and schedules have been abandoned without explanation.
An application for the CE was completed by Missoula County’s consultant along with environmental reports last January. These were submitted by Missoula County to Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) and passed forward to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in Helena in early February. Though the formal application is not available, the environmental documents are published on the South Avenue Bridge website at southavenuebridge.com. FHWA said that they would conduct their review and reach a decision by early March.
Maclay Bridge Alliance sent letters to FHWA concerning inadequacy of the CE in early February. We were assured that the concerns addressed in those letters would be considered. We understand that they have completed their work and sent comments back to MDT. We also sent a letter to the governor’s office with a copy to MDT Director Tooley asking for a meeting. That meeting took place in Helena February 27 where we addressed specific details of the CE inadequacy and we offered alternatives. We were told a decision would be made soon.
Issues addressed at Helena meeting included:
- Lack of identification and mitigation of impacts
- Availability of funding for historical bridges
- Insufficient consideration for alternate designs
- Safety for area residents, pedestrians, bicyclists
We have patiently waited through March, April, and now May with no word. An inquiry sent to MDT in April was answered with a message that MDT had completed their review but the response was being formulated and would be evaluated by a contract attorney. We were led to believe the evaluation was imminent. Now June is at our door but a decision and the administrative findings continue to remain secret.