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Downtown lane reductions still linger in transportation requests

Broadway in downtown Missoula just before rush hour. A local nonprofit has asked the Metropolitan Planning Organization to reduce Broadway, along with Orange, Russell and Higgins, to two lanes to make more room for bikes. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

A Missoula nonprofit has asked the Metropolitan Planning Organization to covert four downtown arterials to two lanes of traffic to accommodate buffered bike lanes on portions of Higgins Avenue, Russell Street, Orange Street and Broadway.

The request, submitted during the MPO’s latest call for projects, received mention during the Transportation Technical Advisory Committee’s Thursday meeting, where members reviewed a financing draft related to current and future transportation needs.

Included within the document lies a request from Bob Giordano, executive director of the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation, to covert Higgins, Russel, Orange and Broadway to two lanes of traffic with a center turn lane to accommodate buffered bike lanes.

All three stretches of roadway are currently four lanes and feed downtown Missoula.

“Those projects to add in multi-model facilities in some context are in the Long Range Transportation Plan, but there’s no current funding source to cover those,” said transportation planner Aaron Wilson. “Those are projects in the long-range plan, not necessarily a three-lane conversion, but adding in non-motorized facilities.”

Giordano’s was the only comment submitted by the public during the call for projects, and it continues the pressure the city is under to explore future transportation options related to the downtown district.

The City Council has already agreed to fund a study that will look at the feasibility of converting 5th and 6th streets to a single lane. As part of its 2018 budget, it’s also debating whether to fund a $20,000 study that will look at “transportation options” on Higgins Avenue.

Those options include a lane reduction from Brooks Street to Broadway.

“If the Higgins Avenue study were funded by City Council, it’s an activity the MPO staff would likely be the lead on,” Jessica Morriss, the city’s transportation planning manager, said Thursday.

Giordano’s request also includes a Broadway reduction between Orange Street and Madison, and from Madison to Van Buren.

It also looks to covert Russell to three lanes from South Avenue to Mount. A reduction to Orange Street is also requested from Brooks to Spruce.

Of all the requests, a reduction to 5th and 6th may be the closest at hand.

“The 5th and 6th street project referenced by Giordano is currently under consideration by the city of Missoula, with potential implementation in 2018 when the roadways are resurfaced and chip sealed,” the document suggests.

Wilson said that project has likely been pushed back another year, or until Fiscal Year 2019.

“There’s a study done and I believe that resurfacing those roads has been put off until next year,” he said. “City council is evaluating whether to go ahead with that project.”

In other transportation news, Mountain Line general manager Cory Aldridge said the partners that made Zero Fare possible three years ago have agreed to rejoin the effort.

The program was launched as a pilot project in 2015 and was set to expire at the end of this year. No other details were immediately available.

“It was a demonstration project to see if it would be successful, and our ridership went from 900,000 to 1.5 million,” Aldridge said Thursday. “We met with the partners and they’re all in agreement to continue it for another three years.”