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Missoula takes another crack at huge westside infrastructure project

The still largely open area between North Reserve Street and the Missoula International Airport is expected to change dramatically.
Posted at 9:24 AM, Aug 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-03 11:41:19-04

MISSOULA — Local leaders are taking another shot at securing dollars for a massive road and infrastructure project serving thousands of new homes as Missoula's growth continues pushing west.

This time around US Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) believes the additional local homework could convince the federal government to open its checkbook.

The still largely open area between North Reserve Street and the Missoula International Airport is expected to change dramatically over the next 10-to-20 years.

Spurred by the demand for housing, new commercial development, and the city's sprawling annexation of more than 3,000 acres, there's a good chance we won't even recognize this part of the valley in a few years.

But before all that happens, Missoula County and city leaders, developers and Realtors told Sen. Daines they need help to so it doesn't turn into a big mess.

Local leaders told the senator the idea is to strategically place the infrastructure in these open areas before development occurs.

"And we're going to grow by 20,000 people over the next 20-years. We're forecasting the need for 9,000 new homes. This area is planned for 3,000, so only one third of that 9,000," WGM Group rinicpal Engineer Ryan Salisbury explained.

"But if we don't plan this carefully and get it right we could really back ourselves into a corner for future growth."

Sen. Daines was shown how Missoula would use a $15 million federal BUILD grant to leverage a $30 million plus "collector" system -- building a "grid" of streets connecting to other roads like Mullan, West Broadway and Reserve.

That would ease pressure on roads like Flynn Lane, already a de facto bypass of sorts, serving the expanding schools and residential neighborhoods on the west side.

It's reminiscent of Gallatin County's growth the past 20-years, although in a different direction.

"The challenge we had in the Gallatin Valley was more of east-west connectivity. In Missoula it's north-south. And if you don't solve these problems, these constraints, it starts moving traffic in places you don't want it to be," Sen. Daines said.

"It creates congestion. And as we talked about today, it limits the ability to expand housing. And when you have a very tight housing market that means prices go up. So this is something that solves a number of important problems."

Missoula tried for the BUILD grant last year. Now, the county and the city have done a lot more research to back up the new request.

"That is the recipe that we need to make this happen. This means Missoula is heavily invested in this project already," Sen. Daines said. "That helps my case when I go back to Washington and say now we need the federal partnership."

Now with more than $170 million in new investment already on the horizon, local leaders feel there's no time to waste.

"We'll make this one of our top priorities and fight for Missoula. And we aren't going to give up until this project becomes a reality," Sen. Daines said.

Planners say a side benefit of the collector would be reducing traffic on North Reserve, which is already close to gridlock at times.