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Racing growth, Missoula to chase new grant for greater Mullan infrastructure project

Posted at 1:18 PM, Mar 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-31 15:18:31-04

MISSOULA - Calling it the most “shovel ready” project on the city’s list of transportation plans, the Missoula City Council this week placed its support behind an application to secure more funding for infrastructure work in the greater Mullan area.

The district, presented in the Sxwtpqyen Master Plan, is expected to accommodate more than 6,000 housing units and thousands of new jobs in the coming years. Before that happens, however, it needs the infrastructure and transportation network to accommodate the growth.

“The approved and in-the-pipeline projects is now upwards of 2,600 to 2,700 housing units that could be approved here in the next year or so,” said city transportation planner Aaron Wilson. “It’s been a successful project in terms of spurring growth and the kind of growth we want to see in this area.”

The city and county in 2019 received a $13 million federal BUILD grant to begin the work, which is set to commence next month. The initial round of funding will cover a number of improvements including the full extension of Mary Jane Boulevard from Mullan Road to Broadway, and the extension of George Elmer Drive to Mullan.

England Boulevard will also be extended with current funding, and the city will place two new roundabouts on Mullan Road at the Mary Jane and George Elmer intersections. The state plans to place a traffic signal on Broadway at the new Mary Jane intersection.

While the work marks a significant step forward as development pressure builds, the $13 million received in 2019 was less than the $23 million sought. Inflationary costs have also taken a bite from the project, Wilson said.

“Cost inflation has been pretty substantial across all our projects,” he said. “We weren’t able to include the protected bike lanes, sidewalks and street lighting – some of those critical elements we envision as part of the multi-model transportation network.”

While a dollar amount hasn’t been determined, Wilson said a second grant would enable the city to complete the project as planned – and sooner. That includes bike lanes on most major roads, new non-motorized trails and the completion of unfinished streets.

The project once included plans for Grant Creek, though that portion of the project no longer appears in city or county presentations regarding unfinished work. Still, Wilson said the project should be competitive under the new federal RAISE grant program, which replaced the old BUILD grant from the last administration.

“The criteria changes with different administrations and projects,” Wilson said. “We wanted a project that was easy to put an application together and was competitive against the criteria. These grants, you have to get started pretty quickly.”

Other transportation projects remain on the city’s list, including plans to convert Brooks Street into a bus-rapid transit corridor. That project, officials have said, would have a significant economic impact as private investment moves in behind the work and transforms the 1970s-era Midtown area into a multi-model district with more housing and business opportunities.

The city also has sought for years to convert Front and Main streets in downtown Missoula to two-way travel. A new interchange on Interstate 90 north of Scott Street has been discussed in past years, Russell Street remains unfinished, and plans to alter Higgins Avenue are in the works.

The City of Missoula is looking to convert Brooks Street into a bus-rapid transit corridor, but the plan isn’t far enough long to apply for a federal grant.

“We have a number of other priority projects, but we weren’t at a point where we could put together a grant application for this particular funding round,” said Wilson. “This project has a lot of benefits to provide good transportation facilities in an area where we’re seeing a tremendous amount of growth. We can meet the funding criteria very well.”

Earlier this month, the Transportation Policy Coordinating Committee placed its full support behind the Mullan RAISE grant, and members of the City Council on Wednesday did the same.

“It really does get to what we’re trying to do in the Mullan area,” said council member Mirtha Becerra. “It’s important to have the infrastructure before a lot of development takes place to ensure we have the multi-model infrastructure available for the community.”