Transportation planning spans Missoula, funding and coordination a challenge

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MISSOULA — With a small pot of funding available for transportation planning, a broad coalition of local officials is working to identify where to direct revenue and stretch it as far as possible given the long list of possibilities.

The Transportation Technical Advisory Committee said Thursday it has about $1.7 million available for fiscal 2023, but the list of potential projects requiring planning far outweighs revenue.

Getting everyone on the same page can be the first priority.

“The problem is that we haven’t made any decisions on any of this,” said Jeremy Keene, the city’s director of public works. “We have a bunch of bits and pieces. How do we coordinate all these elements?

Committee members represent a wide range of local interests, including city, county, fairgrounds, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, the Montana Department of Transportation, and motorized and non-motorized interests.

Many of the projects discussed Thursday marked the first time other committee members had heard of them. This includes a Montana Department of Transportation study of the Russell Street Corridor from Fairgrounds to 39th Street.

This could include newly signposted intersections at McDonald’s or 34th Street, improved lighting, a roundabout at the fairgrounds entrance and safer pedestrian facilities.

“They’re looking at the whole thing,” said Ben Weiss, manager of the city’s bicycle and pedestrian program. “There is some sort of planning effort going on in this hallway.”

Missoula County is developing its own plans to improve the fairground entrance and perimeter of the facility, although it was unaware of Russell’s MDT study.

The county is willing to donate the right-of-way along Brooks for safer boulevards and sidewalks, as well as lighting, according to Emily Brock, director of land and economic development for the county.

Brock, who also chairs the Midtown Master Planning process, urged the group to coordinate its efforts and ensure the appropriate associations are informed of the various planning efforts.

“It looks like there’s a lot of effort going on,” Brock said. “The fact that MDT is working on this is news to me. If they’re going to do a (Brooks) lighting project, I want to make sure we try to get the Midtown Association involved.

Weiss also suggested that the committee put the Broadway Corridor on its list of projects vying for study funding.

The planned development in the Riverfront Triangle, the West Broadway Master Plan, the new Costco property and the Mullan BUILD project all have the potential to impact traffic in the corridor, Weiss said.

“We have a lot of security concerns around the new Costco entrance to Great Northern and how it has changed traffic patterns there. And we know the Reserve Street ramps are a problem,” Weiss said. “We anticipate that a new signal will come to Mary Jane, and that may change general movement speeds, and perhaps 55 is no longer appropriate. There’s so much going on that it seems like it’s worth watching closely.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization itself has projects it has identified as priorities, according to transportation planner Aaron Wilson. They range from a new public participation plan to a new street “typology” plan, which would facilitate future planning and code reform.

The typology classifies various streets such as connecting streets, neighborhood streets, traffic volumes, through streets, and freight lanes, among others.

“It’s about being able to have the street types and map them and have them in code reform so that our land use requirements match what we’re trying to do on the transportation side,” Wilson said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations around the city, but it’s worth asking people in the county if this is something we should be doing across the urban area, so there’s consistency between the city and the county. .”

Wilson said the city and county, along with their various agencies, also need to get a handle on the movement of electric vehicles. The state is about to release its version of its alternative fuel corridors, and city officials believe Missoula needs a plan of its own, independent of the state’s plan.

This would require coordination between city and county utilities, NorthWestern Energy, state, city and county. It would also reduce the funds available.

“We haven’t done much locally to think about how we deploy electric vehicle infrastructure – what’s needed in terms of utilities, where do we want to deploy them, how do we manage it in the public grip,” Wilson said. . “It looks like things could happen quickly on the EV side and we don’t have a good strategy or policy in place to manage that.”

MDT is also planning a pedestrian study by the former Ruby’s Inn on Reserve Street, although it is not being funded. Russell between Brooks and the 39th would follow.

Considering all the projects, applying for grants will be essential, but even that will cost money. While there are funds available, the prioritization of projects and needs needs to be completed, Wilson said.

“We can reduce that million dollars to virtually nothing quickly,” Wilson said.

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