City takes first step as water owner with Russell Street project

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The city will take is first action as the future owner of Missoula Water by extending a water main on Russell Street as part of the Montana Department of Transportation’s plans to reconstruct the corridor.

On Wednesday, the City Council’s Public Works Committee authorized the mayor to sign an agreement with WGM Group to complete the engineering services needed to extend a 12-inch main to a stretch of Russell Street that currently lacks the infrastructure.

John Wilson, director of the Public Works Department, said the past owner of the water utility started but never finished the main extension. Given the legal battle over Mountain Water, the company was unable to complete the design work or coordinate with MDT to make the improvements.

“Once we were able to start communicating with the local staff at Mountain Water, they asked us if we wanted to take it over and we did, because this is our only chance to extend the water main northward on Russell,” said Wilson. “There’s no water main north of Wyoming on Russell, and that limits some potential for development.”

In 2014, a study was completed on the Russell Street corridor outlying a vision for redevelopment, including mixed-use retail, office and housing. But Wilson said the lack of a water main has limited developer interest and has raised concerns by the fire department.

“I took a look at the water map, and there’s a large area north of Wyoming to the river, on both sides of Russell and back some distance, that has no water mains at all and is currently underserved or on wells,” Wilson said. “That’s a not a good situation for fire protection, and it’s limiting the development potential.”

MDT is gearing up to widen Russell Street from two lanes to four from Dakota Street north to West Broadway. The project is rapidly approaching, giving the city until May 1 to complete its engineering study so MDT can incorporate the water improvements into its construction bid package.

The services contracted by the city with WGM group are not to exceed $67,000. Funding for the main extension will come from the city’s financing of its Mountain Water acquisition, which includes funding for capital improvements.

“This area around River Road, the lack of water lines and water mains in that area, means there are no hydrants in that area, and that’s an important point,” said Ward 1 council member Bryan von Lossberg. “The lack of water infrastructure in this area is an abomination, to put it mildly.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com