Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Mountain Line will serve as the recipient of a large federal grant awarded to the City of Missoula last year to plan the conversion of Brooks Street into a transit-oriented corridor complete with a center running bus lane.

The project, which still requires funding to build, would set the stage for redevelopment of the Midtown district by attracting the private investment needed to move the area from its current auto-centric design to something more pedestrian.

The city last year received $847,000 from a federal RIASE grant to study and plan for the conversion of the Brooks Street corridor. Because the grant will be administered by the Federal Transit Administration, the funding can only go to a transit agency.

“It can only go to a transit agency, which the Missoula Redevelopment Agency is not,” said MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “The recipient of the grant will be Mountain Line. MRA will be managing the project in all aspects other than being the recipient of the funding.”

The city has eyed changes to Brooks Street for more than a decade now, and the grant will provide the momentum needed to move the changes forward. Brooks Street was developed in the mid-1900s as a commercial highway built around a “a sea of surface parking.”

Now, the area is considered ripe for dense redevelopment including housing, office and greater commercial opportunities. To get there, converting Brooks to a transit corridor with a fixed, permanent route could serve as the catalyst needed to attract the private investment for redevelopment.

“What we're settled on is that we'd like to look at bus rapid-transit – a center lane down Brooks that has transfer stations strategically placed along that route,” Buchanan said. “It constitutes a permanent investment in a transit route in a much less expensive way than trying to do rail. It really solidifies private investment up and down that corridor.”

As envisioned, Mountain Line would launch 15-minute service along the corridor via the center-running bus lane. A number of transit stations would be placed at strategic locations along the route.

Work would also improve the design, safety and flow of traffic at various intersections. Re-configuring the corridor would also make it easier for pedestrians to cross the busy street. Dedicated bike lanes would also be added – something currently lacking in the Midtown area.

Getting the study and design done now could position the city to receive the funding needed to build the project.


“We'd like to be in a position to apply for federal capital funding to build this in the 2024 funding cycle,” said Buchanan. “This type of project is being held very favorably at the federal level right now. With the administration that's in place today, we think we have a good chance of bringing a large capital grant to the city.”

The Brooks project is just one transportation effort that's currently in the planning or design phase. Higgins Avenue is also slated for changes, and Front and Main streets will be returned to two-way traffic.

The bus-rapid transit project would inform all three projects.

“This may expand to a grant request that's not only the Brooks corridor, but also the implementation of the Higgins Avenue reconsecration, and even the conversion of Front and Main to two-way traffic,” Buchanan said. “That's a compelling story when you put all those together.”

While the Brooks Street planning effort takes off, a consultant hired by the city is set to begin developing a Midtown Master Plan. The corridor is central to the district, but the vision for further redevelopment for housing, business and commercial opportunists are also on the table.

ECONorthwest will lead the first public visioning workshop on Sept. 27.

“With the Midtown Master Plan happening and the code reform project happening, this (Brooks Street project) can't happen fast enough,”said MRA board member Melanie Brock.