Martin Kidston – Missoula Current
The Transportation Policy Coordinating Committee approved a funding strategy on Tuesday that would advance completion of the Russell Street project from Third Street to Mount Avenue sooner rather than later.
Under the agreement, the Montana Department of Transportation would commit up to $31 million in federal highway funding to finish the work faster than the Metropolitan Planning Organization could do on its own if trying to pay for the $47 million project solely from urban funds.
The Transportation Technical Advisory Committee approved the strategy earlier this month.
“The reason we tried to champion a funding solution is that we see a need to continue and complete the project,” said MDT district administrator Ed Toavs. “Urban funds are really inadequate to do that, given the project cost. You’d be in the late 2030s, early 2040s if you relied solely on urban funds to complete the project.”
In return for MDT’s funding assistance, the MPO would commit its allocation of state transportation funding, or urban funding, to the project for the foreseeable future. The city would also cover any design specialties and cost overruns.
Without the agreement, the project’s cost would consume the MPO’s funding sources for several decades, putting other needed projects on the back burner. The MPO receives just around $2 million a year in urban funding.
“At current estimates, we’re estimating it’s about $47 million for those phases beyond what we’re constructing now,” said Aaron Wilson, the city’s transportation planner. “At $2 million a year, you can do that math on how long it would take for us to pay for that project. It’s a long time frame, costs are going to go up, and it’s not a very effective way to do a project.”
MDT is currently widening Russell Street to five lanes from Third Street to West Broadway. That project is underway and is slated for completion early next year.
But the project includes at least two other phases, including a five-lane expansion from Third Street to Mount Avenue and additional work at the West Broadway intersection.
The entire project was included in the city’s long range transportation plan back in 1996. In the future, it could also see a connection to Interstate 90.
“In all of our plans, it’s the highest priority project,” said Wilson. “The first phase is under construction, but there are some additional phases, like getting that work completed to Mount and some additional work on Broadway.”
While future phases of the project remain in design, Toavs said the Third to Mount segment would be similar to what’s taking shape now in the current project.
That includes separated bike lanes, trail crossings, bus stops and other features unique to Missoula, Toavs said.
“It doesn’t mean we can’t take some liberties and flexibilities like we have on the current project, where we’ve done lane-width alterations, complete streets work, trail connectivity and some decorative items,” Toavs said.
MDT will move forward with the project’s final design and continue to acquire properties needed for the next phase of expansion.
“The idea would be to have the project ready no later than 2023, so we can try and put it in 2024 funding,” he said. “We have a couple properties in limbo right now because we don’t have the urban funds available to cover the cost of acquisition.”