MISSOULA - As Mountain Line looks to increase service and transition to an all-electric fleet, it will need a new location and is currently exploring a number of sites.
However, one site, located near the airport, would shave more than $400,000 off the agency’s operating revenue given its distant location. The other and more preferable site sits in the Scott Street area on two adjoining parcels, one of which the city owns.
“Mountain Line has a strategic plan through 2060 that calls for more than doubling service,” said Peter Walker-Keleher, a senior planner with DJ&A Engineers. “To become that transit agency, it needs a much bigger site than it’s on today. They’re sitting on 2 acres and they probably need 8 to 10 acres to meet their mission, and part of that mission is to transition to an all-electric fleet.”
Mountain Line has grown over the past decade in both ridership and service, and it already has begun a conversion to electric busses. But its current facility, located off Shakespeare Street in a residential area, is tight and no longer functions as needed.
The agency wants to move north of the railroad tracks to property near Rodgers and Otis streets. It has rudimentary designs for a new facility that would provide parking for dozens of buses, room for mechanics and a route plan that would largely avoid surrounding residential growth.
“We’re going to have hundreds of busses daily going back and forth to this storage facility,” said Walker-Keleher. “The Missoula Redevelopment Agency has put a ton of effort into developing a bunch of housing in that area and the last thing we want happening is having a bunch of busses going through those residential areas.”
Mountain Line officials said a number of hurdles must still be crossed, including the purchase of a small 5-acre parcel from a willing seller and city approval to use city property next door as part of the project.
It also needs to land a Federal Transit Authority grant, which is due in May. The maximum grant award is $54 million and Mountain Line plans to seek the highest amount. Doing so would require a 20% match, or around $13.5 million.
The agency has $10 million available and will need the city – or the Missoula Redevelopment Agency – to provide the remaining $3.5 million. Mountain Line plans to make the request to MRA in May.
“Chances are better than not we’ll be unsuccessful,” Walker-Keleher said, citing the challenge of winning a competitive federal grant on the first ask. “But it’s that first very promising opportunity.”
Colin Woodrow, projects and planning specialist with Mountain Line, said the new facility would be largely limited to electric vehicles, though some diesel-powered vehicles may still use the site given the composition of the current fleet. But the agency plans to do away with diesel in the near future.
He said the agency will apply for 10 more electric buses this funding round and still plans to convert its fleet by 2035. Walker-Keleher said that transition makes the Rodgers Street property ideal.
“If Mountain Line weren’t transitioning to an all-electric fleet, it would be tough to say this is a good location because of the noise and emissions,” he said. “But given the plan to transition to an all-electric fleet, this is compatible with surrounding uses.”