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Funding comes through for second phase of Russell Street reconstruction

Russell Street reconstruction
Posted at 7:49 PM, Feb 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-26 22:37:08-05

MISSOULA — It's "Christmas in February" for the City of Missoula, as $31-million in state and federal money comes through for the second phase of reconstructing Russell Street.

Although the city will have to commit several years worth of local urban project funding, the development is a step forward in solving one of the main city streets.

It's considered one of the biggest pieces of transportation news this year for Missoula, as word came this morning the Montana Department of Transportation is offering an agreement to completely fund the second phase of Russell Street reconstruction.

The $31 million combines federal and state money set aside specifically for regional transportation projects. It will pay for the reconstruction from Dakota south to Mount, as well as the remaining improvements for the Russell and Broadway intersection north of the soon-to-be-finished new bridge.

The agreement requires the city to commit it's local "urban" transportation funding for the next five-to-10 years. But in return, the city will be able to put on the brakes if the project exceeds those funds.

Essentially if the bid comes back over that budget of available federal funds the city can say we're not going to send this project to bid," said Missoula transport planning manager Aaron Wilson. "So that's one point where we can check-in and say 'are we on budget' and are we going to make sure we don't forward with a project knowing that we don't have enough funds."

The goal is to continue the same sidewalks, bike lanes, and lighting. We don't know if the dangerous Bitterroot Trail crossing will be tunneled like the Milwaukee Trail. But Wilson says the city would have to pay for extras.

"The agreement says standard MDT design criteria. What that means is things like special decorative lighting that the city may request as part of the design might be a cost that the city would have to cover," Wilson said.

Even though the second phase of the Russell Street reconstruction doesn't involve building a bridge, it's still going to be very expensive. A big part of that is the right-of-way costs. The state has been acquiring property as it became available in anticipation of this big reconstruction project.

"You can imagine if it takes us another 15 years to build up the funding necessary to deliver the project," said Wilson. "If you're buying right of way 15 years from now it's going to be considerably more expensive than it is today."

Council members welcomed the funds, saying the news is a "big deal", solving a transportation problem that's been kicked around for nearly 25 years.

The council is expected to take final action on the agreement Monday, then the city and state will start working on planning and design, with opportunity for public input.