The Montana Department of Transportation has provided an important update on the status of the Higgins Avenue – Beartracks Bridge renovation project.

District One Administrator Bob Vosen spoke to KGVO News late Friday afternoon to explain why weight restrictions have been placed on the bridge, prohibiting vehicles exceeding GVW of 10 tons from utilizing the bridge.

“During the demolition on the east side of the bridge, that’s the second side of the bridge, some additional degradation was discovered,” said Vosen. “So, in the interest of safety, we decided to conduct further inspections on the west side, that’s the first side of the bridge. Those inspections indicated that we had similar issues on the west side of the bridge as well. So out of an abundance of caution, and to prevent further degradation, we put load restrictions in place.”

Vosen explained that gusset plates have degraded over the years and must be upgraded or replaced for the safety of the bridge.

“A gusset plate is a plate that ties other members of the bridge structure together and they can be used in various locations, such as tying beams to diaphragms and stringers to girders,” he said, “It's like a connection plate.”

Since the bridge is being renovated and reconstructed, Vosen said there was no way to know the condition of the gussets until they could be uncovered during demolition.

“This is this bridge was built in the early 60s,” he said. “So I mean, it's 60 years old and we're doing rehabilitation. We're putting a new deck on top of the old framework, if you will. So I liken it to doing a home remodel, anybody that's ever pulled paneling or sheet rock out of an old house. They've had that ‘holy cow’ moment, when you say ‘I didn't expect to find that back there’.”

Vosen emphasized that the weight restrictions will be temporary until engineers can strengthen or replace the gussets.

“It's not unusual to have additional work come up on a rehab type project,” he said. “The other thing that I really want to stress is this is a temporary situation. We will be going back in there and making sure that when we're done this bridge will able to carry a full legal load.”

Vosen said the MDT did not yet have an estimate of how much the replacement and repair work will add to the overall budget, and in addition, the availability of steel and other construction materials may cause a problem at this time.
Vosen said as the MDT works through this complication, they will keep the public informed as to any delays that may be necessary.

The original completion date was to be in the spring of 2022, at a total cost of about $16.5 million.

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