Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Mountain Line and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency unanimously agreed Thursday to jointly contract a local engineering firm to complete a transportation study and design for the Brooks Street corridor.

The city last year received an $847,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to plan and engineer a range of improvements on Brooks Street, including bike and pedestrian infrastructure, safer intersections and a bus-rapid transit system.

MRA's board of commissioners have also approved a $50,000 match while Mountain Line will provide $30,000, bringing the project's total budget to around $927,000.

“It captures all of our conversations about how we identify a local match for this grant,” said Andrea Davis, a Mountain Line board member. “Now we have the contract amount and a do-no-exceed amount.”

Under the agreement, MRA will serve as the project manager while Mountain Line will be the recipient of the federal planning grant. The negotiated fee with HDR is $887,000 and allows around 4% in savings to serve as a contingency fund if needed.

Goals of the project to boost Midtown economy, safety

The work will result in a detailed planning analysis of a bi-directional, center-running bus lane, which would enable Mountain Line to launch 15-minute service along the busy corridor to downtown Missoula.

Other project elements will work to remove the barriers that Brooks Street presents to both pedestrians and cyclists. That focus has emerged as a top priority within the Midtown Master Plan. It could also help attract investment, fueling housing and commercial growth in the area.

A bus rapid transit system is planned along the Brooks Street corridor.
A bus rapid transit system is planned along the Brooks Street corridor.

“This is a really compelling strategy for the city and the Midtown group,” said Annette Marchesseault. “A bus every 15 minutes is convenient for people. Putting in a fixed route like this also signals to developers that it's stationary, it's permanent and won't be moving around. It will encourage more infill and transit-oriented development in that part of the city.”

Marchesseault said the project would also address safety concerns.

“It will help bridge crossing Brooks Street so there are locations where it's more convenient and safer to cross,” she said. “There would be more improved sidewalks. We'd love to get dedicated bike lanes on Brooks if there's the will, the funding and the space. There are multi-dimensional benefits from the project.”

While MRA and Mountain Line agreed to contract HDR and get to work, Marchesseault said it could take a week for the contract to be reviewed, approved and signed. It would also take time for the engineering study to ramp up.

While MRA considered a number of firms, it selected HDR in part for its ability to conduct public outreach and to engage with stakeholders. Within the next month, team members plan to hold a kick-off meeting.

Marchesseault added that it would take an estimated 14 to 18 months to complete the entirety of the Brooks Street planning and engineering study.

“Some of the things we'll have to initially work out is setting up our steering committee, technical advisory committee and our schedule for milestones,” Marchesseault said. “That's one of the very first things we'll do. How quick that happens, we won't know until we sit down as a group and really nail down our schedule.”

The City Council earlier this month signed off on a grant that planners will submit for federal funding to complete a number of downtown transportation projects, including Front and Main, and Higgins Avenue.

It may seek up to $23 million from the RAISE Grant capital program to fund that collection of projects. Marchesseault said the city initially considered applying for the same grant program to fund work on Brooks Street, but that could change.

The study and engineering work must play out first.

“We initially had thought that we'd apply for another RAISE capital grant. We may still do that but HDR, as part of their contract, will help us identify the most appropriate funding source. So there may be another funding source, and it may have another schedule,” Marchesseault said.