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From I-90 interchange to bike lanes, Missoula’s transportation future takes shape

Higgins Bridge Traffic Night
Posted at 12:06 PM, Dec 04, 2020

MISSOULA — From a Russell Street interchange at I-90 to the transit conversion of Brooks Street, projects proposed in Missoula’s next Long Range Transportation Plan could enhance a number of city goals – and tie up funding for the next three decades.

But the final plan and the projects it includes could also shape growth in the coming years and further enhance the region’s return on its infrastructure investment.

The final plan is expected in April.

“Making decisions about the way we grow can do more for our transportation investments, and our transportation investments can do more for the land use decisions we make,” said Jennifer Weiland, a planner with Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates.

Over the past year, transportation planners have gathered public input to develop a number of scenarios being considered for the next transportation plan. More than 200 projects were evaluated and scored and whittled down to roughly 25.

The remaining scenarios mix and match those various projects while considering costs, which run in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The final transportation plan will include projects that have the most impact given current growth projections, and where that growth is expected to take place.

“The transportation system is really essential to how we grow, and how we can grow our economy and make sure people are able to access jobs or services,” said Aaron Wilson, the city’s transportation planning manager. “We’re using scenarios to evaluate different outcomes based on a set of investments.”

The remaining scenarios look at enhancing the city’s existing infrastructure and making new connections, such as a bridge over the Clark Fork River at the Riverfront Triangle or connecting Russell Street north to an interchange at I-90.

Other elements, considered enhancements, include separated bike lanes on North Reserve and the two-way conversion of Front and Main streets in downtown Missoula. Intersection improvements along Brooks Street and Stephens Avenue are also on the table.

“We’re asking the public to share with us which of these three scenarios will best meet their needs,” Wilson said. “Selecting a scenario, or a combination of scenarios will allow us to prioritize projects within a final scenario to identify which should come first and what will be included in the final Long Range Transportation Plan.”

A number of projects have already been committed, including infrastructure work tied to a $13 million federal grant in the Mullan area. That work is expected to begin next spring. In all, the final scenarios include $110 million in committed work – projects that are already funded and moving forward.

But the list also includes $178 million in work that’s considered constrained by funding.

“It can sound like a lot of money, but when you think about it over 30 years and how expensive infrastructure projects can be, it goes pretty fast,” said Weiland. “We’re not going to have as much money as we need to have over the next 30 years.”

The final Long Range Transportation Plan will carry the region through 2050.

“We’re now at the point where we want to share with the community how these scenarios could impact our region’s transportation future,” Wilson said. “This is the point where the public has a key role to play in determining how we choose to advance our goals.”