Study would explore reducing Higgins to three lanes

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The Missoula City Council will be asked to help fund a $60,000 study that could see Higgins Avenue reduced to three lanes between Broadway and Brooks Street, depending on the findings and associated costs.

The Transportation Technical Advisory Committee on Thursday voted to approve a request by the Metropolitan Planning Organization to provide $20,000 toward the study, one intended to explore levels of service and safety along the stretch of Higgins Avenue.

Jessica Morriss, the city’s transportation planning manager, said the city and the Metropolitan Planning Organization would lead the Higgins Avenue study.

“That would be from Broadway to Brooks, including both intersections on both ends, as well as the bridge,” said Morriss. “We’ll be taking a request to the City Council for consideration in their upcoming budget deliberations for Fiscal Year 2018 to fund the other two-thirds ($40,000) of the study.”

A city memo said the study would include an analysis of existing conditions along Higgins between Brooks and Broadway. It would also offer an assessment of potential improvements to bicycle and pedestrian facilities along the corridor.

That could include separating the facilities from the roadway by reducing Higgins to one travel lane in each direction with a middle turn lane. It currently serves as a four-lane road.

The city is also considering reducing Fifth and Sixth streets to a single lane.

“Specifically, the first phase of the (Higgins) study will assess the feasibility of converting the corridor to a three-lane cross section, similar to the existing conditions north of Broadway on Higgins,” the memo suggests.

The second phase of the study would present a new corridor design and cost estimates to complete the work. If a three-lane conversion is not possible, the study will look for other solutions to improve non-motorized facilities.

“That study would be looking at that corridor and different options for improving all modes of transportation, particularly bicycle and pedestrians,” Morriss said. “It would incorporate those recommendations into the Montana Department of Transportation’s plans for a major rehab of the bridge that’s anticipated to come forward in 2020.”

The committee on Thursday also approved a request to provide an additional $20,000 toward a separate study along Brooks Street in the Midtown district.

That study would come on the heels of the new Brooks Street Corridor Study and would explore a number of recommended improvements, including the placement and design of a new transit center in the Midtown district.

“The study is anticipated to cost $200,000, and right now, they have a commitment from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and Mountain Line for $50,000 each, and $20,000 from MPO,” Morriss said. “They’ll be seeking $80,000 from other sources, and they’re trying to round up those funding sources as we speak.”

MRA and Mountain Line are members of a Midtown group of stakeholders looking to redevelop the corridor as the district grows with new development.

As part of that, Mountain Line intends to launch 15-minute bus service along Brooks, and the study would help determine both capital and operation needs to make the Bolt! route a reality.

The study would also evaluate potential locations for public parking structures to support local development and transit. It would also create designs for several key intersections.

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com