Bridge or bust: Boy Scout bridge out until 2027
November 23, 2023
Griffen Smith of the Pathfinder
Several bridges in Seeley Lake, Greenough and Condon are in need of major repairs or replacements, but work on the bridges likely won't start until 2027 because of a lack of funding.
That means the Boy Scout bridge, which was shuttered by the Montana Department of Transportation for structural concerns on Nov. 15, will likely sit idle until Missoula County secures state or federal dollars to replace it.
Missoula County Public Work Director Shane Stack told the Pathfinder that Boy Scout Bridge has become the top priority in the area for replacement, but the county hopes to secure a grant to replace both Boy Scout and four other bridges in the area.
Boy Scout bridge is currently estimated to cost $5.7 million to replace.
Four other bridges on Riverview Drive in Seeley Lake, Sunset Creek Drive in Greenough, and Glacier Creek and Cold Creek in Condon would each cost somewhere between $2 million to $5 million.
In total, the county must come up with $19.7 million to complete all five bridges. Currently, Stack said the county has $1 million from the state, and likely won't know if it gets any federal grants until the end of 2024.
The $1 million comes from Montana House Bill 536, which allocated $100 million from the state general fund for infrastructure projects. Of the $100 million, the county got a piece of $10 million set aside for discretionary projects.
The county also got $38,000 to repair Glacier Creek Bridge for the time being. Stack said repairing the Glacier bridge now will make the replacement move faster with fewer closures.
Stack said the county hopes to wrap all five bridges into one project through funding from the federal government. The county is currently submitting a plan with the Department of Transportation to get a similar grant to what the county received in 2019.
Stack said all the bridges will have price estimates soon, which came from American Rescue Plan Act funding in 2021.
Stack said this process is slow moving. It could take up to a year to see if Missoula County is awarded the grant. If no money comes from the federal government, the timeline to fix Boy Scout Road bridge could be longer.
While the Boy Scout Road bridge is closed, all other bridges are expected to stay open. Two of the bridges - Sunset Creek and Glacier Creek - are limited to three tons.
The plan to replace all the bridges at once is not set in stone, Stack said. The county could use emergency state funding if possible. Stack didn't know, however, as MDT had yet to call him back on the matter by Nov. 17, two days after the closure of the bridge was announced.
The Boy Scout Road bridge has been a known problem for years, the Pathfinder previously reported.
"This bridge has been one of concern for a long time," MDT Bridge Management Engineer Amanda Jackson wrote in a 2017 letter to Missoula County. "It's a good candidate for replacement. All of the piles are deteriorating."
The Pathfinder received a copy of the 2023 underwater bridge inspection report, which said most wooden beams supporting the bridge had been in poor condition. Dozens of beams had internal decay, some so heavily splintered that pieces of wood dangled off the bridge.
The Pathfinder asked Stack why the bridge had not been replaced earlier. Stack said Missoula County Engineer Erik Dickson would know. The Pathfinder reached out to Dickson by phone twice, but did not get a response before press time.