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Monday morning conversation: Transportation planning in Missoula

Posted at 1:09 PM, Aug 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-30 15:09:02-04

MISSOULA — We talked with Missoula Current editor Martin Kidston during Monday’s Montana This Morning to learn more about the various transportation plans that are being looked at in Missoula.

“There is a lot of transportation planning going on in a lot of significant corridors. You're looking at Front and Main Street downtown with the possibility of the conversion of those one-way streets into two-way streets,” Kidston said.

“They're also studying Higgins Avenue from Broadway to Brooks Street for potential changes there. And of course, the entire Brooks Street corridor is being studied for feasibility and possibly some big changes there.”

Front Street

“There is a lot going on in the air, and as far as what is going on in the Mullan area as far as infrastructure planning. So, transportation has risen to a high level at this point in time.”

Some of the changes being looked at are aimed at helping businesses, especially in downtown Missoula.

“The downtown area, at least Front and Main Street, have been discussed for years and they've been identified as priorities in the original Downtown Master Plan, I think around 2008. They've resurfaced in the latest Downtown Master Plan which resurfaced about a year and a half ago,” Kidston explained.

“That proposal is certainly being engineered. They contracted that project to get it shovel-ready in case the infrastructure money begins available. That would probably be the first project that would move forward if the money becomes available. That's been a long time in the works.”

missoula parking

“I think Higgins Avenue, those changes have only recently been considered because of the accidents that have happened there, to make it a safer corridor or a ‘picture postcard’ corridor as they are trying to call it,” Kidston continued. “And Brooks Street is all about mobility, that's what they are trying to accomplish out there.”

The Beartracks Bridge is under construction right now and that’s been impacting businesses along the Hip Strip and some newly proposed changes have recently surfaced.

The changes on Higgins; the Downtown Master Plan suggests that it become a ‘people place’ to help business and attract business. And make it a ‘picture postcard’ street. They're talking about bringing the rail car back there and some other amenities,” Kidston said.

missoula traffic

“I think it will make it a more attractive place, at least what the planners are telling us. That's the goal of the changes if they come to fruition.”

Another possible big change is the proposed Big Sky Passenger Rail service, which would run from Glendive in the east to Missoula, like it used to be.

“It seemed like a longshot two years ago when commissioner Dave Strohmeier kind of launched the idea but it is gaining momentum,” Kidston noted. “They've got 16 counties on board now, stretching from eastern Montana to western Montana. That's more than half the counties along that route, and it's a diverse, politically diverse counties. And that gives it momentum.”

mt rail map

The Rail Authority has been meeting, and there's funding with the transportation bill, with funding specifically for passenger rail. I think they're in the right time and the right place. It's starting to look like it could be something that could be possible.”

“The next step in that is an economic study, which is underway. We'll see the results of that study soon and that will show us how much of an economic impact passenger rail will be, but also the cost of restoring that service will be. So, we'll see how that balances out and what happens after that,” Kidston concluded.