South Avenue bridge project ignores neighborhood safety

Opinion, Missoulian, 5-18-2015

Open Letter to Gene Kaufman, Brian Hasselbach, and Kevin McLaury of FHWA, and Mike Tooley, MDT Director

The South Avenue Bridge Project should only move forward if all significant impacts to the new location are thoroughly reviewed. As a resident living on South Avenue to the west of Humble just before the road goes down a blind hill, coming off the bench down to the flood plain, I know of at least one significant impact. This section of South Avenue to the west of Humble is not as wide as the rest of South Avenue, and it is not even aligned with South Avenue after Humble. 
My son and his friends ride their bikes to school and for fun on this road, and I run along it. Since it is a dead-end street, there is minimal traffic to worry about. However, it is currently not wide enough for two cars to safely pass a bike or pedestrian. Attaching a two-lane bridge will make this road part of a new main corridor and make it far too dangerous for pedestrians and bikes if it is left in its current state. 

I have discussed these issues with Erik Dickson, the project manager for the South Avenue bridge project, and he agrees that this section of South Avenue is "substandard" and should not in its current state be connected to a new two-lane bridge. However, I have been repeatedly told when I bring up this issue at county meetings that the bridge must be designed first before roadway improvements can be discussed. 

Missoula County just signed a contract with HDR Engineering, but the contract limits the project to the bridge and its approaches and asks HDR to prepare a Categorical Exclusion Document. This is the lowest form of environmental review that can be done. Therefore, Missoula County appears to be ignoring MDT and FHWA regulations which require a higher environmental review when there are significant impacts such as to the human environment resulting from changes in traffic patterns, which I have illustrated. 

I implore all parties involved, Missoula County, the Montana Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration, to look at the big picture in reviewing this project. This is not a simple bridge replacement project because Missoula County wishes to build in a new location across a flood plain. This new bridge would then be connected to a substandard road creating a new main corridor past two schools, a new regional park, and a hospital. Whether it is state, federal, or county taxes, we deserve to have our taxes used only for the safest, least impactful plan possible, which requires the highest environmental review.

Sharon Sterbis
Missoula County resident


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