Missoula County asks Department of Transportation to oversee South Avenue bridge project

MISSOULA -- A Missoula bridge project that could increase traffic in an otherwise quiet neighborhood may switch hands. 

The South Avenue Bridge plans are currently managed by Missoula County, but the Montana Department of Transportation may soon step in to oversee the project. MDT currently manages 20 out of 21 bridge projects in the county, according to Missoula Public Works Director Shane Stack. 

The project still needs environmental documents approved from state and federal agencies, but if approved, construction would start in 2024. 

The new bridge would cross the Bitterroot River and connect South Avenue West and River Pines roads.

Fred Stewart has lived on the 4600 block of South Avenue for 35 years. Stewart doesn't want the South Avenue Bridge because he said the Maclay Bridge, which is about a mile north of where the proposed bridge would be, works just fine. 

"We don't think that it makes any sense," Stewart said.

He's one of 200 people with the Maclay Bridge Alliance, a group that advocates for the preservation and rehabilitation of the Maclay Bridge.

The bridge has a recommended limit of 100 cars per day, however nearly 3,000 cars drive over it each day, according to state and federal studies. 

Stewart said the Maclay Bridge Alliance hired national historic bridge engineers who say they can improve the historic bridge, which he thinks eliminates the need for the South Avenue Bridge. 

"It would be safer for the community to keep that bridge than the safety issues that are involved with building a new bridge," Stewart said.

On Tuesday, Missoula County commissioners agreed to sign a formal letter asking the MDT to take over management of the South Avenue Bridge project. 

"We'll sign the letter," Missoula County Comissioner Josh Slotnick said. 

Some residents at the meeting were in support.

"It's time that we move forward with it," Bridget Johnson an advocate for the bridge said. 

While Stewart is against the South Avenue Bridge construction, he thinks it's a good idea to have the state take over the reigns. 

"There's reasons that I think make sense for the commissioners to back off and say let's turn it back over to the state," Stewart said. 

In the meantime, Stewart and others in the neighborhood aren't backing down. 

ABC FOX Montana reached out to MDT on if they would comment on taking over the project. As of 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, we did not get a response. 

It's unclear what the next steps are for the project. 

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