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Bridge work continues, traffic at standstill

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As crews complete MT 64 bridge deck, work shifts to US 191 bridge

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – The bridge deck projects in Big Sky labor on—crews completed the bridge near the intersection of MT 64 and U.S. 191 on Aug. 14, continue work on the bridge by Little Coyote Road, and began on the bridge on U.S. Highway 191, two miles north of Big Sky.

But as the Montana Department of Transportation and its contracted construction crews continue their work, so far rush-hour wait times have not been alleviated. Anyone in Town Center from 5-7 p.m. on a weekday can see traffic backed up beyond Ousel Falls Road for multiple light cycles as drivers are met with one way traffic heading both north and south on Highway 191.

Workers on the bridge by Andesite and Little Coyote roads will finish paving then shift traffic to the completed side in order to begin work on the westbound bridge deck early the week of Monday Aug. 17. They will then begin the demolition process, removing the old bridge deck in order to build the new one. MDT expects work on this bridge to be completed by late September.

On the U.S. 191 bridge, workers are tearing up the surface of the road and bridge in order to work on the structure and its connection to the roadway. Crews are using a technique called hydro-milling to break up the top layer of the northbound bridge deck. Hydro-milling uses high-pressured water to cut into the surface layer of the deck without damaging the layers underneath.

Traffic controls and barriers were set up early on Aug. 17 and commuters can expect traffic delays of up to 15 minutes depending on the time of day. Loads wider than 11 feet are restricted and will need to find an alternative route.

Although working hours vary, crews largely work between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., according to Ashley Davis, civil operations manager at Dick Anderson Construction, and project manager for the Big Sky Bridge Decks Project.

“The reason we can’t put more crews on is because, one: there’s not enough geometric space to work if we got more efficient during the day,” Davis said. “[And] there’s no night work allowed on the job, so it’s not like we can work multiple shifts.”

Davis says as a part of their contract with MDT, Dick Anderson is not permitted to have crews working at night.

“MDT kind of frowns on that because of safety concerns, which is why they try to avoid that … In the construction world, night work is typically less efficient,” Davis said. “It was never called out in the bid documents that it was expected to be required to work around the clock.”

MDT officials declined to comment on crew size and hours, differing instead to Dick Anderson for comment, but did say they hope crews can finish the decks by early October. The bridge on U.S. 191 will most likely be completed by late September or early October, said Craig Walker, MDT engineering project manager.

“It may seem like there’s not much going on, but sometimes they have to wait for a cure time so they take off early,” said Walker, noting that some cement cure times can take up to a week.

From a public safety standpoint, the Big Sky Fire Department met with MDT prior to construction to discuss safety concerns. The nature of the traffic—cars backed up in only one lane at a time—allows emergency vehicles to get to an emergency scene with ease, according to the Big Sky Fire Department.

“We’ve had just a slight few delays when they were doing the bridge down at Conoco when traffic was backed way up,” said Chief Greg Megaard of an instance where they were transporting someone to Bozeman Deaconess hospital. “We just very carefully turned on the lights and sirens and navigated at a low speed. We’ve been fairly lucky that most people do [move over] and have been paying attention to sirens as soon as they can.”

Chief Megaard reminds drivers, whether moving or stuck in traffic, to keep an eye out for emergency vehicles and move over as quickly as possible to allow them to pass. This is key to keeping the community safe during major constructions projects.

“When you see or hear emergency vehicles, you need to pull over no matter where you’re at,” Chief Megaard said.

The same light systems and traffic sensors that were in place at the Conoco Travel Shoppe intersection are in use at the U.S. 191 bridge construction site, monitored by engineers who can adjust the light times as needed.

Addressing drivers frustrated by traffic wait times, Davis says that construction work by nature is sequential and that Dick Anderson has been adjusting its crew numbers when possible.

“We’ve got as many crew on it as we can physically make effective and stay within the contractual requirements [with MDT],” Davis said.

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