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City looks to engage Mary Avenue residents in designing western extension

Mary Avenue
Construction on the eastern portion of Mary Avenue near Southgate Mall has begun, though the western portion won’t occur for several years until a lengthy public outreach process is completed. (Photo by Martin Kidston)

By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s Board of Directors on Wednesday agreed to contract DJ&A, a local engineering and planning firm, to oversee the public outreach and overall design of an extension of Mary Avenue near Southgate Mall.

While the extension runs just three city blocks west of the mall and will complete a new east-west link between Reserve Street and Brooks Avenue, it has emerged as a controversial project largely due to its potential impact on residents.

But MRA, working at the request of the Missoula City Council, believes DJ&A can help weigh public input as it designs the future project.

“DJ&A clearly understood the public outreach component of this and put together a team to do it,” said MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “It was a unanimous decision of the selection committee to go with DJ&A. They had a strong proposal.”

While the project is at least two years away, city leaders hope to engage residents along Mary Avenue – along with those on surrounding streets – to design the western extension. Once built, it would tie into a portion of Mary Avenue now under construction east of the tracks at Southgate Mall.

“There are some misconceptions of what the nature of the street might be at the end of the day,” said Buchanan. “That’s why it’s so important to get (residents) to the table. We need to make it clear we’re not building South Avenue. That’s the reference I keep hearing.”

While not opposed to the project, MRA board member Daniel Kemmis said the money being spent to contract DJ&A for outreach and design was significant compared to the number of residents the public process would attempt to engage.

As agreed by the board, the contract isn’t to exceed roughly $117,000.

“City council did say this street is going to be built, and they had asked MRA to establish this design process,” said board member Ruth Reineking. “I feel like in some ways we’re doing this at the request of City Council.”

Buchanan said the public outreach would extend beyond Mary Avenue to include residents on neighboring streets. She agreed that public outreach was necessary to complete a successful project.

“The board has always been sensitive to the impact of our projects on residents, whether they own property or not,” said Buchanan. “I don’t want what goes on east of the tracks to presuppose or dictate what happens west of the tracks. This is their (residents) street to have a say in.”

The outreach phase of the western extension of Mary Avenue is expected to begin this year.