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Crews put finishing touches on Russell Street tunnel

MISSOULA – A glance might make you think the new pedestrian and bike tunnel under Russell Street is complete.

But construction crews still have a number of tasks to complete before the passageway is safe for use.

The new Milwaukee Trail tunnel is one of the main features of the Russell Street Bridge and road reconstruction project.

While the tunnel’s basic construction is complete, the Montana Department of Transportation says there’s still a lot of finishing work to be done.

“There really is you know. They’ve still got to get the pavement in place. And today they’re working on getting one set of stairs in. We’ve got a lot of landscaping to do down here,” said Bob Vosen the Missoula District acting administrator for the MDT said on Wednesday.

Building the tunnel is actually one of the more complicated features of the reconstruction project. Previously, walkers and bikers had to use a sketchy crossing that was increasingly hazardous as Russell Street traffic volumes climbed, especially in the dark.

Contractors had to bore out the new tunnel, all the while keeping Russell Street in operation.

Russell Street Tunnel
Construction crews still have a number of tasks to complete before the passageway is safe for use. (MTN News photo)

“Slowly but surely they were able to get all the excavation done. There was a lot of shoring that had to take place to hold up the existing embankment. And a lot of concrete that was placed,” MDT project engineer Darrell Williams told MTN News.

There is a lot of work left to be done to finish off the inside of the tunnel and graffiti artists aren’t making that any easier.

They hit the tunnel this week and two people had to spend time cleaning up the mess.

“The walls have an anti-graffiti coating. This allows for the graffiti to be removed a lot more easily. But you have to do it as timely as part of the process,” Vosen explained.

“So we try to get it done within 24-hours of when it’s discovered. But that takes a worker away from doing something meaningful to get the project complete,” he added.

MDT officials are asking trail users to be patient and wait for the entire tunnel to be finished before trying to use it.

That means people need to comply with the changing detour signs and give crews plenty of room to safely finish their work.

“We want it to be safe. And when we’re open we want to be able to just have it open and not have the users wonder ‘well, is it open today or is it closed today?’ We don’t want to be in that situation,” Vosen said.

Vosen says the tunnel is still on track to be finished and open in September. Click here for the latest updates on the Russell Street project.

Dennis Bragg

Dennis Bragg

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