Bypass bridge could be built next year

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Chipping away at the Kalispell bypass project one piece at a time, the Montana Department of Transportation is planning to build a new bridge on Three Mile Drive that would span the future path of the bypass underneath.

The estimated $5 million bridge has been made a priority backup project for the department’s Missoula District. If everything goes as planned, the project would go out for bids this fall with work starting by spring 2014, administrator Ed Toavs said.

“We’re trying to get the project ready and we hope funds will be available for a fall letting,” Toavs said about the project. “It’s just rebuilding Three Mile Drive to accommodate the bypass underneath.”

Until more of the U.S. 93 Alternate Route is built, the Three Mile Drive bridge will be a bridge over nothing. 

But building the bridge now and running the bypass underneath it later is expected to avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in throwaway costs compared to building the bypass and connecting it to Three Mile Drive at-grade now and building the bridge over it later.

“The thing on this one is it might look strange to people,” Toavs said. “It’s just a matter of this is money we’ll have, let’s bite off this piece and get it done and not worry about it in the future.” 

A similar scenario is taking shape at Four Mile Drive. Kalispell and the Montana Department of Transportation plan to extend that road west to Stillwater Road with a bridge spanning the future path of the bypass there. That estimated $3 million project remains in the planning stages.

Farther north, bids are due June 27 for contractors who want to build the northernmost section of bypass. 

That estimated $8 million project will reconfigure the intersection of U.S. 93 and West Reserve Drive and run the bypass from there south to Reserve Loop. Work should start this fall or next spring and could significantly affect that key intersection for up to a month.

The rest of the northern half of the bypass has been split into phases. They are all designed but awaiting funding and none of them are in the transportation department’s five-year road construction plans. 

Phases would extend the bypass from Reserve Loop south to Four Mile Drive and from there to Three Mile Drive and then to U.S. 2 to meet up with the southern half of the bypass that opened to traffic in November 2010.

 

AT ITS MEETING on Monday, the Kalispell City Council approved a construction agreement for the Three Mile Drive bridge. Needed for the project to proceed, the agreement spells out Kalispell’s willingness to maintain things such as sidewalks and streetlights as the bridge is built and annexed into the city.

Kalispell also is planning to do about $163,000 in utility relocation work. Those projects will replace water and sewer lines in the area and move them deeper underground before more of the bypass is built.

City officials are cheering all of the bypass-related activity that has been seen and hope it will continue. 

“This is great news for all of us. We’re starting to see the pieces come together, piecemeal,” council member Tim Kluesner said about the state’s plans to build the Three Mile Drive bridge. “I hope we can see the end of the rainbow here and have a bypass that bypasses.”

 

Reporter Tom Lotshaw may be reached at 758-4483 or by email at tlotshaw@dailyinterlake.com.

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