Downtown Missoula commuters may want to consider some alternate routes Monday when local government and tribal leaders gather to dedicate the new Beartracks Bridge. 

But when the ceremony is over, the new bridge is expected to improve travel in and out of downtown. It might seem like forever that we've been dealing with reconstruction of the old Higgins Bridge. Actually, it's been exactly two years. 

The massive project initially started in October 2020, with crews completing the widening of the bridge on the downstream side last year. Originally, the Montana Department of Transportation had hoped to have the project wrapped up this past spring. But problems were encountered when the first set of beams had to be checked after installation. 

Lack of materials delayed construction

However, like so many things, that's where the supply chain issues kicked in. The completion of the second half, on the east side of the bridge, dragged on through last winter and into the summer. Just a few weeks ago, it looked like the span might not be finished until November. 

Most of the work actually wrapped up sooner than that, with the remaining sections of the deck being installed in September. 

Monday, members of the CSKT Tribal County and the Séliš-Qlispé Culture Committee will join the city, county, and federal officials to dedicate the bridge, with its new name honoring Salish leader, Sx ʷ úytis Smx̣e (Grizzly Bear Tracks), and his descendants, the Vanderberg Family. The ceremony will begin at 12:30, with dedication, then a procession from the south end of the bridge marking the route of the Salish people when they were moved from the Bitterroot Valley by the federal government. 

Naming and dedicating Beartracks Bridge is an act of remembrance, redemptionand recognition, and is more than 130 years overdue. - County Commissioner Dave Strohamier

It is so fitting to name this bridge in honor of Sxʷúytis Smx̣e, Grizzly Bear Tracks, a leader of the highest stature among the Salish people. - Martin Charlo, CSKT Tribal Council Secretary

The celebration continues with a powwow at Caras Park from 2:30 pm into the evening.

Streets will be closed from 11:30 am to 2:30, including Higgins Avenue, and the section of Front leading back to Caras Park. S 3rd Street West is also closed because of construction.

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