The Missoula City Council last month approved an engineering study to determine if the stairs off the Higgins Avenue Bridge could be used in the renovation work slated for construction early next year, and if a plaza planned for the Hip Strip was feasible.
The answer came back this week with a positive thumbs up.
Jeremy Keene, director of Public Works, said HDR engineering looked at both issues. Not only were both projects feasible, he said, they could net the city some minor savings.
As for the stairway leading from the bridge to Caras Park, Keene said constraints such as underground utilities and park features could be addressed through slight modifications to the old stairway when the new bridge is in place.
“It is feasible to move the stairs and build a new foundation over the sewer lines, and there’s some modifications required to the current stairs to bring them up to code for ADA,” said Keene. “But overall, the cost appears to be similar to the cost of building a new stairway.”
The stairs are near and dear to the hearts of some, and members of the public have lobbied to keep them in place after the Higgins Avenue Bridge is modified next year.
“Using the same stairs is keeping with our efforts to make more sustainable choices and decisions,” said council member Mirtha Becerra.
The new bridge will include four lanes of traffic and wider pedestrian and bike lanes on both sides. The lanes will be separated by a rail from moving traffic.
The city will fund around $1.7 million of the project’s $16 million cost.
“The stairs have a design value and a community aesthetic people really wanted to see preserved,” said Keene. “We’re recommending the stairs be painted. We’ll get these plans drawn and incorporated into the contract, which goes out to bid in December.”
The engineering report also gave positive marks to a plaza planned for the corner of Higgins Avenue and Third Street.
With slight modifications to the design, the plaza looks feasible, Keene said. The Montana Department of Transportation will fund the project.
“This came back with some good results,” said Keene. “It’s feasible from the grading standpoint, and we actually saved a little money. MDT is on board with this. The news as of yesterday is they’ll incorporate it into their plans.”
The plaza could be the first of several changes coming to the Hip Strip. The Penwell Building, which anchors the corner of Third and Higgins, is under new ownership, and those owners have plans of their own.
While their plans haven’t been publicly divulged, the details could be forthcoming.
“They’re planning to do a project,” Keene said. “We expect to see something in the coming months.”