Conceptual plans for Mary Avenue extension receive “broad consensus”

mary-avenueBy Martin Kidston

Plans to redesign three blocks of Mary Avenue could move toward final design if approved in coming weeks by the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and the City Council.

Responding to public concerns over converting the dead-end street into an east-west connector, the city last year directed MRA to include Mary Avenue residents in a public process while developing plans for the road.

On Wednesday, Annette Marchessault with MRA and Peter Walker-Keleher of DJ&A Engineers, said the public process netted broad public support, though a handful of residents remain opposed to any changes.

“We think it’s been a very successful process,” said Marchessault. “We got broad consensus on the plan that was put together.”

The city’s long-range transportation plan first mentioned Mary Avenue as an east-west connector between Reserve Street and Brooks Avenue in 1996.

Bisected by the Bitterroot Branch rail line, the road sat quiet and forgotten until last year when the city approved plans by Southgate Mall to launch a multi-million-dollar redevelopment of its property. That work is now under way and marks the first phase of plans to build additional housing, retail and office space surrounding the mall in the Midtown district.

Crews are also building the eastern stretch of Mary Avenue, which will eventually cross the tracks and connect with the western portion under the plans presented Wednesday.

“There are people who absolutely wish this corridor was somewhere else, there’s no doubt about it,” said Walker-Keleher. “This street would remain a dead-end street with less than 400 cars per day. But as part of larger city initiatives, in terms of the long-range transportation plan, this street is changing to a collector street, connecting Reserve to Brooks.”

As presented, the plans would see new trees planted along the three-block corridor, along with curb extensions to slow traffic and constrict the roadway at intersections. It also includes a roundabout at Clark Street, and sidewalks would be installed on both sides of the street.

Boulevards would also be created along most of the corridor, while the design accommodates on-street parking at various points along the road. Several properties along the road are currently slated for redevelopment.

“I was quite alarmed when I first learned of this,” said one Mary Avenue property owner. “My opinion was going to fall on one side or another. As I’ve seen this develop, I’m really excited in how it’s moving. It’s going to feel like an asset to the residents.”

While support for the project has grown among Mary Avenue residents, Walker-Keleher said a handful remain opposed to the project and are unlikely to change their minds.

While none of them spoke on Wednesday, their written comments point to concerns over trees, with one resident not wanting to do any maintenance, and concerns that the project would eat into yards. Walker-Keleher said it’s unlikely any front yards would be lost, though in at least one case, the property owner’s yard extends into the public right-of-way.

“That’s front-yard space that today encroaches into the public right-of-way, and will no longer encroach into the public right-of-way,” Walker-Keleher said. “We’ve not yet done the field survey. We’ll do that, presuming that we move into the design phase.”

The plans are designed to accommodate a possible future traffic light at Mary Avenue and Reserve Street, though Ward 4 council member John DiBari encouraged designers to consider other options, such as limiting traffic onto and off of Mary Avenue with right turns only.

Members of the council were pleased with the public input.

“We made a commitment to these folks to have a meaningful public process, and that’s what we did,” said DiBari. “I really do hope that folks there and in the rest of the community know that we mean what we say when we say we’ll do a meaningful public process.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com