September 24, 2017

Status of Maclay Bridge continues to slowly evolve. As we reported in July, Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) were conducting a review of environmental documents submitted by Missoula County for approval of a Categorical Exclusion (CE) for South Avenue Bridge. That review has been completed and we have received a copy of comments produced by MDT and FHWA. Combined, these comments comprised more than sixteen pages referencing the environmental documents, the historical Determination of Effect, and the Concurrence Request for Categorical Exclusion.

We are pleased to report that the efforts of Maclay Bridge Alliance (MBA) are finally showing signs of significance to this project. MBA was mentioned within these comments at least nine times, and FHWA has asked that our multiple letters be reviewed and considered by the county. MBA letters addressed a number of issues including safety, historical significance and importance of Maclay Bridge to the character of the neighborhood, rehabilitation, traffic patterns and control, inadequacies of existing streets to serve a new two-lane bridge, traffic projections, and more. Most of these concerns were never acknowledged or answered by Missoula County or the consultant.

What happens next? MDT suggested a meeting be held to include the county, the consultant, FHWA, and MDT to address the comments to foster understanding. MBA asked about the time and place for this proposed meeting so that our representatives could attend. MDT replied that the suggestion had been forwarded to Missoula County and they would be responsible for setting up the meeting. We wrote to Missoula County to be sure they were aware of our request. We have heard nothing in response. Apparently they are busy considering responses to the lengthy comments from FHWA and MDT on the draft environmental documents.

One of MBA’s questions was “Would FHWA require Missoula County to repay money expended to this point in the project if the county pursued a no-build option?” FHWA’s comments to the County was “FHWA does not pay for work for projects that never get built. If the county were to have a no-build NEPA document now, no payback would be required, but that is not what is proposed.”

That comment opens the door to reconsideration. On several occasions county commissioners have stated, incorrectly, that if they didn’t build the bridge they would have to repay all the costs of the NEPA/MEPA study to date. Now is the time to reconsider whether it makes sense to push forward with the proposed CE. Sixteen pages containing some seventy-eight comments could be interpreted as a notice that this project, as presented, is on the wrong track.

While we wait for Missoula County, MBA continues advocating for our “middle way” proposal. For a lot less time and money, modifying the CE to support rehabilitation of Maclay Bridge is a solution the community can get behind and demand. Our website provides quickly accessed, accurate information, including viable alternatives for rehabilitation of Maclay Bridge provided by our nationally recognized engineers.