By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
Affordable housing, transportation and improvements to the East Broadway corridor ranked among the top issues the Missoula Chamber of Commerce would like the city to consider in future discussions, chamber members told the City Council this week.
In return, council members asked the chamber to help build consensus for often-controversial programs, including ways to fill state and federal funding gaps related to transportation.
Earlier this month, a transportation survey sponsored by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (conducted by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research) found public support for raising fees to help fund improvements to the city’s transportation infrastructure.
The survey found that roughly 48 percent of area residents would support an increase in taxes or fees to make the improvements. The majority of those surveyed said a 2-percent increase in the gasoline tax was the best way to fund improvements that sit beyond the reach of local government.
“The state and federal funds aren’t going to meet the needs going forward, so it’s something that needs to be discussed,” said Sam Sill, director of government affairs for the Missoula Chamber. “There were a number of potential options identified in the survey, and I think that’s something that’s going to have to be flushed out before I can endorse anything on the chamber’s behalf. But it’s a conversation that needs to happen.”
Members of the City Council said they’d welcome the feedback, especially as it relates to a fuel-tax increase to fund transportation needs.
“I’d encourage you to have that conversation and let your local elected (officials) know what you think about it,” said Ward 6 council member Marilyn Marler. “We need to start from a position of having buy-in from the beginning on whatever it is. We can collaboratively decide a way to raise local revenue.”
The Missoula Chamber of Commerce is also moving forward with plans to raise funding to help boost a way-finding effort planned in phases across the city. The program also includes gateway signs placed at each of the city’s five main entries.
“The first phase is pedestrian signage downtown,” said Mary Windecker, chair of the chamber’s board of directors. “The second phase are the five gateway signs. They’re between $32,000 and $42,000 per sign, so it’s a substantial amount to ask our investors for.”
While the details of the effort aren’t complete, Windecker said the gateway signs would welcome visitors to Missoula at East and West Broadway, the Interstate 90 interchange at Orange and Van Buren streets, and U.S. Highway 93 South entering Missoula.
Future phases call for way-finding efforts in other parts of the city, including Midtown, North Reserve and Fort Missoula.
“How the funding will happen and how we move forward with those phases is up in the air,” said Windecker. “The charge for the gateway portion is around $2000,000. The other pieces elsewhere in town will be decided by stakeholders in other areas.”
The chamber also told the council that it would like to participate in future discussions regarding the Hellgate Urban Renewal District. The area, which incorporates much of Broadway east of Van Buren Street, is set for redevelopment in the coming years – an effort already underway with the construction of Missoula College.
Affordable housing also remains on the chamber’s list.
“Attainable workforce housing is important,” Sill said. “It’s something we’re kind of lacking right now. We feel workforce issues, in terms of the shortage, will be a challenge our members will face going into the foreseeable future.”