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City of Missoula settles on top alternative for Higgins changes

Higgins aerial
Posted at 11:30 AM, Dec 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-06 15:59:33-05

MISSOULA - Following years of discussion, transportation officials at the City of Missoula on Monday announced a preferred plan to change the Higgins Avenue corridor, including a reduction of lanes near the downtown district.

During a number of discussions within various groups, including the Missoula Metropolitan Planning Organization, the City Council and others, three different concepts for the corridor from Broadway to Brooks Street had emerged.

The concepts were included in the newest version of Downtown Master Plan. From that, one leading proposal was selected.

“Higgins Avenue is a vital connection from Missoula Midtown to downtown,” Aaaron Wilson, the city's transportation planner, said in Monday's announcement. “We want to create a corridor that is safe for people of all ages and abilities to get around how they choose, while encouraging growth in sensible and sustainable ways.”

Transportation planners in April presented their plans to the Transportation Policy Coordinating Committee, which voiced support for options that reduced vehicle lanes to make room for bicycle and transit facilities.

The preferred concept cuts Higgins from four lanes to three, with one travel lane in each direction from Broadway to Sixth Street. That includes Beartracks Bridge, which has yet to open for four-lane travel.

From the one-block section extending from Sixth to Brooks, Higgins will remain four lanes. The final design resembles that implemented on Higgins north of Broadway several years ago.

Wilson said the preferred concept creates a cohesive design that will serve all users and add to the economic vitality of the corridor. It would also improve safety, advocates contend, by allowing dedicated left turns, protected bike lanes and shorter crossing distances for pedestrians.

Under the proposal, some on-street parking spaces would be lost south of the river. At peak travel hours, motorists could expect an added two minutes of drive time, according to the city.

The project has the backing of the Montana Department of Transportation, which is wrapping up renovations to the Beartracks Bridge — a project that has lasted well beyond the anticipated completion date and may never see four lanes of travel.

"The design for Higgins Avenue is a collaborative effort, and the Montana Department of Transportation wants to support a project that is best for the Missoula community," said Bob Vosen, the Missoula District administrator with MDT. “We want the public to tell us what they think so we can make informed decisions."

The City Council must still approve the plan, which is heading to a final report and possible adoption early next year.

But the public still has a chance to weigh in on the proposal, including next Monday's meeting of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, which begins at 6:15. A noon meeting is also planned on Thursday, Dec. 15.

People are encouraged to visit the Engage Missoula page to view the virtual open house and provide feedback via the survey. Questions and comments can also be submitted to the project team by emailing