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Current Events: Big Sky Rail Authority, Riverfront Triangle developments

Posted at 11:12 AM, Nov 15, 2021

MISSOULA — We take a look at the latest efforts to bring passenger rail service back to Missoula in this edition of Current Events with Martin Kidston of the Missoula Current.

“I had a chance to speak at length with the president of the Big Sky Rail Authority, Dave Strohmeier, also a Missoula County commissioner. They're inspired by the passage of the infrastructure bill and what that might mean moving forward. It will provide a significant amount of money, in the billions to restore passenger rail across the United States,” Kidston explained.

“They've been working to position themselves for some of that funding for about two years now. They are optimistic. They're going to continue with some of their studies, some of their analysis, the viability of this southern route, with some of that money being steered toward the Big Sky Rail Authority and restoration of the North Coast Hiawatha. Especially with Senator Jon Tester being instrumental in writing and helping to pass that infrastructure bill.

It’s been helpful that they were on this early, with sort of a plan laid out, while others may not be ready to go.

“That’s true. They've already done high level economic analysis, showing the economic impact that this route would have across six states. And the several hundreds of millions of dollars that it would bring in additional revenues to the state's that the route crossed,” Kidston said.

“They're also applying for additional grants of funding, not only on more economic analysis but also what it would take infrastructure-wise to restore it,” he continued. “The rail is already used largely for industrial use. They hope to be up and running those trains on the Northwest Hiawatha route again soon, and they are very optimistic, more so than they've been since they launched the rail authority.

There have also been some recent developments with the Riverfront Triangle in Missoula and it’s possible we're going to see a wrecking ball at some point.

“The developer there, the WUTM Group has applied on behalf of the developer. We don't know who the developers are. They've received a phase one, 310 permit for Missoula County. That's just a fancy we to say they have permission working near the Clark Fork River to demolish several structures there in the Riverfront Triangle,” Kidston explained.

“That includes the old one-story parking garage, the former Western Montana Clinic. There's a shed on that property. They're going to remove all foundations and utilities. And they're going to come back next year for a phase 2 310 permit. That phase 2 permit will allow them to start contouring the ground for whatever they're going to place on that property.”

“It's at that point that we will probably have a pretty good idea as to what they have in mind, but we already know that it's going to be a mixed-use, multi-store, residential, possibly business property,” Kidston continued. “That's going to be just one element of what's going to be a development on that downtown property.”

“That's going to include quite a bit of additional housing, office, retail, commercial, parking at all levels and possibly an entertainment venue. That seems to be something that is still alive as well, at leaves what the city has been saying.”