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Current Events: Mountain Line growth update

Missoula's mass transit system is looking for a new home
Mountain Line Passengers
Posted at 11:09 AM, Jan 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-31 13:09:52-05

We continue our coverage of Mountain Line’s search for a new facility and location in this edition of Current Events with Martin Kidston, the editor of the Missoula Current.

“Mountain Line is growing as Missoula is growing and in order for them to grow and meet the needs of the long term plan and the needs that Missoula voters voted for, they need more space and that means a larger maintenance facility and more bus drivers,” Kidston said.

“The challenge is that transportation grant, the infrastructure grant that recently passed. There is federal money that is available, but they can't build the facility unless they have property. Finding property in inner Missoula isn't easy,” he continued.

“There are some moving parts. They have been talking with the city. The city bought those 18 acres off Scott Street,” Kidston explained. “They’re developing nine of those acres into housing but they’re retaining the other nine acres for their long-range facilities plan. And they intend to move public works over to those nine acres at some point in the future.”

“There has been some talk about sharing those nine acres with Mountain Line. There has been some conversations about sharing that land, but those conversations haven't gone very far. In the meantime, Mountain Lion is racing the clock,” Kidston pointed out.

“They don't have a lot of time to dilly dally and find a new place because they need to expand their service and they need new drivers for that. They're getting four new electric buses this year which will bring the number to nearly 0% tailpipe emissions.”

Mountain Line Bus Barn
One area Mountain Line is looking to address is finding a new bus barn.

The transfer station would stay downtown, with the other facility moved a little bit away which all ties together with their big transportation plan.

“Voters a couple years ago passed a bond to expand service to Mountain Line and add routes at nine, expanded service on the weekend. The City recently adopted its transportation plan and look strongly at redeveloping the Brooks Street corridor,” Kidston explained.

“Mountain Line is an essential part of that because the City, its transportation agency wants a center-running bus lane. It's a new concept, a pretty neat idea to run up and down that corridor. All the way from downtown to the Walmart on Highway 93, to make all those stops in-between.”

“The point is unless Mountain Line can meet their spacial needs, to hire the bus drivers they need to run those buses, plans like that can't even take place, which leaves the City's own transportation plans a pitch,” Kidston pointed out. “It all ties together, the success of one ties to the success of the other. I'm certain the City and Mountain Line and the County to possibly locate a landholding where they can begin their expansion.”

Mountain Line Snow
The Mountain Line bus depot in downtown Missoula

It also appears Mountain Line might be upgrading some of its bus stops. Currently, you see people standing on a curb, or a pile of snow.

“Candy Johnson with Mountain Line says they are doing a bus stop master plan. In that plan they will be eliminating many, many stops,” Kidston said. “But they're also moving away from what they call the flag system, where you can stand on the corner and wave down a bus, like waving down a taxi in New York. They're trying to move away from the system and establish established stops.”

“Those established stops would be upgraded, so they would have heating, signage, shelter covers. They'd have a landing to pick up handicapped accessible passengers. So it's a big upgrade in their own system. That began last year, and it will continue to play out this year. Hopefully, people won't be left to stand out in the rain or the snow when they catch the bus,” Kidston concluded.