Missoula Story of the Week: Replace Historic Maclay Bridge?


Maclay Bridge has been an iconic structure on the west side of Missoula, spanning the Bitterroot River since 1893.

The bridge, which was built by William Plunkett, was washed out several times during the beginning of its life until it was rebuilt for a final time in 1953, according to maclaybridge.org. The fate of the bridge may be in jeopardy again.

However, this time it may be engineering and traffic reports that decide its fate, instead of an overzealous spring run-off.

Results of a year-long study on Maclay Bridge have found that the best option is to move the bridge upstream, an option named “South 1,” as stated in a KPAX.com article. The new bridge would connect South Avenue (on the east side), with River Pines Road (on the west side), as stated on the Montana Department of Transportation Website.

The estimated cost of the project is over $6 million, funding that has not been allocated to the project as of yet. A construction date, like the funding is not likely to materialize in the near future, but engineers feel this option is the best for safety, traffic, and any future growth in the area.

The Maclay Flat trailhead near Missoula.

According to KPAX.com, “The effort isn’t geared to a final plan for construction, but to merely do the advance work necessary so the bridge work can happen when funding becomes available in the future.” The engineers working on the report feel it is better to prepare for the future than to wait until it is staring them in the face.

While opponents of the new bridge point to its history and worry about increased traffic a newer, two-lane bridge might bring, proponents of a new river crossing look at the structure’s inability to effectively handle future development.

Moving one car at a time across the Bitterroot River meet seem like an outdated concept, but some residents of the Target Range neighborhood are reluctant to see another part of their history changed simply for convenience. Others see the aging bridge as an accident waiting to happen and feel its replacement is inevitable.


Each week, Tom Diddel recaps the week’s most talked-about story in Missoula. Visit the Make it Missoula News & Opinion section for more talk of the town.


Tom Diddel has lived in Missoula on and off for nearly thirty-eight years. He enjoys skiing, hiking, and many other outdoor activities. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Montana and is currently working as a Freelance Writer and a Para-Educator.