It’s on: At $29 million, Russell Street begins two-year transportation transformation

Road crews tackle utility and irrigation work on Russell Street ahead of next month’s major push to install a Milwaukee Trail underpass and begin work on a new bridge. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

In two short years, a one-mile stretch of an antiquated thoroughfare in Missoula will expand to four lanes, grow sidewalks and landscaped medians, and bus stops and boulevard trees.

Traffic through the growing district will flow more smoothly and investment will follow. But until then, motorists will be greatly served by practicing patience, or better yet, finding a different route.

Work on the $29 million Russell Street redesign was fully under way on Monday as residents made their way to an open house showcasing the roadway’s future. Traffic slowed as crews began relocating utility lines and irrigation ditches ahead of the summer season.

“It’s stuff that needs to get done before irrigation season starts, so when people want to turn on their water to water crops and lawns, they can,” said Bob Vosen, the district construction engineer with the Montana Department of Transportation. “Early April is when we’re going to really start impacting people on Russell.”

Next month, crews will begin installing the Milwaukee Trail underpass, providing cyclists and pedestrians safe passage under the future four-lane roadway. Construction on a new bridge is also set to begin.

In all, the project will take two years to complete.

“The whole project has been years in the making,” said Vosen. “It’s an excellent collaboration between the city of Missoula and all the special interest groups making sure we’re meeting the needs of all the different members of the community.”

The project’s design plans – unique to road projects in Montana – includes raised bicycle lanes on both sides of the street. The new bridge will include trail crossings on both sides of the Clark Fork River while the Milwaukee Trail ducks under the road at its current location.

An artist’s rendering of one of the trails passing under the new Russell Street bridge.

Dedicated turn lanes will be installed at Wyoming Street, where the city is planning its own project, and the Russell Street intersection at West Broadway will be reconfigured, ensuring a smoother flow of traffic.

The project also includes landscaping, bus stops and luminaries.

“We’re going to be doing a lot of landscaping to make sure it goes with the look of the city,” Vosen said. “We worked closely with their Parks and Recreation Department to make sure we meet the needs and goals of our partners.”

The project was initially set to begin last year but was delayed in 2016 due to a budget shortfall at MDT. Funding was found and MDT worked to secure the right-of-way needed to put the project into motion.

While a dollar figure for purchasing that right-of-way wasn’t immediately available on Monday, the entire project carries a price tag of $29 million, making it one of the largest in the state and the biggest in Missoula.

This summer, $95 million in projects are slated for the greater Missoula area, Vosen said.

“I’ve been with the department for 20 plus years and have been on two other projects that were bigger than this,” said Vosen. “Any time you get over $20 million, it’s a large project. And when you take into consideration this with all the other work going on in the greater Missoula area, it’s a tremendous amount of work.”

On Russell Street, the project was let to Dick Anderson Construction, who was also present at Monday’s open house. While the project rings in at nearly $30 million, it’s also poised to generate dozens of new jobs.

“We’re doing the structures and the bridge, and we’ll have upwards of 20 craft people, but the rest of the subcontractors could have at least that if not more, and that doesn’t factor in the jobs for people fabricating the bridge or producing the aggregate,” said Ashley Davis, project manager with Dick Anderson.

Visitors to Monday’s open house explore the project, its impacts and timeline. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The improvements are also expected to result in a flurry of private investment as developers eye the area for future projects, including retail and housing. The city commissioned a Russell Street corridor study back in 2014 that outlined future recommendations.

“The neighborhood surrounding Russell Street between Third and Broadway should become a mixed-use neighborhood that provides a unique sense of place in Missoula,” the study read in part. “Transportation choices should be maximized that include automobiles, transit, bicycles and walking. A variety of neighborhood oriented services should be encouraged to locate here.”

The current project will widen Russell to four lanes from Broadway to Dakota Street. At some point in the future, the state will widen Russell to four lanes from Dakota to Mount Avenue. The entire project has been in the planning stages for 18 years.

“This is a project we’ve had programmed and the funding just came together,” Vosen said. “Certain projects come together at the right time and you just roll with it.”