Metro Planning places support behind street grid, infrastructure west of Reserve

Vehicles wait a traffic light on North Reserve Street. The Metropolitan Planning Organization wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation supporting Missoula County’s application for a federal grant to add a network of collector streets west of Reserve. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The Metropolitan Planning Organization has placed its support behind Missoula County’s plan to pursue an $18 million federal grant to help build a new transportation grid west of Reserve Street.

The county announced earlier this month that it would reapply for the federal BUILD grant this summer after last year’s application came close but was ultimately unsuccessful.

The application is due in July and stakeholders are currently seeking letters of support.

“New roads in the project area will create a network of complete streets, including sidewalks and bike lanes, (that) improve connectivity and provide access to nearly 400 acres of developable land,” the MPO wrote in a support letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

County officials told the Missoula Current that last year’s application made it to the final round of vetting but didn’t score as high in the category of project readiness. Local officials plan to correct the application’s deficiencies while restating the project’s importance.

Jordan Hess, chair of the MPO and a member of the Missoula City Council, spent nearly 10 minutes at the light at Mullan Road and Reserve Street while trying to reach a meeting at 44 Ranch Estates.

He said the project, which carries an estimated $30 million cost, is greatly needed.

“The biggest thing is that it creates connectivity in an area where there’s very little,” he said Wednesday. “It gets people to Broadway where there’s much more capacity and it builds a grid network in an area where we don’t have it.”

The project has the full support of the city and county, both of which are working to get ahead of rapid growth on the city’s western edge.

Projections for the area west of Reserve, between Mullan and West Broadway, call for nearly 3,000 units of housing and 7,000 new jobs over the next 20 years.

Hess said the project would open land to needed housing development.

“I’m really hoping it can dovetail with our housing policy,” he said. “There’s opportunity for inward-focused greenfield development. It’s probably the right place for it. It builds our ability to steer housing and get additional housing in that area.”

In its letter of support, the MPO said collector streets planned for the area will improve the efficiency of Missoula’s larger transportation system and relieve congestion in key areas, including the intersection of Mullan and Reserve.

The MPO called that intersection the most dangerous in the state.

“The project will also provide safe passage for non-motorized travelers and open up access to developable land, which is in short supply in the confined Missoula Valley,” the letter states. “Preservation of open space will provide opportunities for parks and agriculture.”

Among other things, the project would see both George Elmer Drive and Mary Jane Boulevard run from Mullan Road to Broadway, creating two north-south connectors. England Boulevard, which runs east and west, would intersect them both.

It would also create new non-motorized trails in the rapidly growing district. The plan also envisions opportunities for workforce housing and industrial development on land owned by Missoula International Airport.

“It’s got the collector network the county has been planning for decades, but it also builds new trail infrastructure and other pieces that are a big part of our mix,” said Hess. “The city is generally in the business of building connectivity and increasing options.”