The Missoula City Council on Monday night opened its public hearing regarding a request to rezone 44 acres of land for an expanded housing project proposed at the base of Grant Creek.
The rezone would permit an additional 691 housing units over the 494 units allowed under current zoning. Some opponents have questioned whether the neighborhood can support the additional growth, including the traffic some fear it will generate.
While services like parks, trails and transit aren’t currently supported or are lacking in the area, they could be introduced down the road, according to City of Missoula planning supervisor Dave DeGrandpre.
Part of that plan would expand the lanes at the Grant Creek intersection, where residents say delays are already common.
“We’ve heard lots and lots of public comments, and one of the main things we have heard is traffic congestion,” DeGrandpre said. “So right now, traffic congestion is pretty darn great if you’re headed southbound.”
DeGrandpe said this could be solved before any housing is constructed. This fall, the Montana Department of Transportation will expand the lane leaving Grant Creek to two lanes and add a left-turn lane at the Interstate 90 intersection.
“With these addition of lanes, you’re more than doubling your southbound capacity coming out of the intersection. It just makes everything operate vastly better,” Bob Abelin of Abelin Traffic Studies said.
The average queue on the Front Creek Road intersection during the morning’s peak hour is 334 feet, according to Abelin. The addition of lanes would bring the queue down to 154 feet. If the rezone is approved, the average queue would be 199 feet.
With a full build of the the project, there will be 2.2 seconds of additional delay with the intersection, he said.
“I think it’s going to surprise people how well that actually is going to work and how much more capacity we have for projects like this,” Abelin said.
Karen Sippy with Friends of Grant Creek said that doesn’t address all their concerns with traffic. A larger housing project would bring an increase to traffic on Reserve Street, she said.
Additionally, Sippy said it doesn’t account for the seasonal influxes that the neighborhood gets from the surrounding hotels, or the daily trips to Snowbowl or the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
While appreciative of the lane development, Sippy called the road a “bottleneck.”
“The extension of the left-hand turn lane and the second lane is absolutely appreciated by the residents in Grant Creek,” she said. “We are very appreciative of what MDT is doing for us at this time. However, once this pinch goes down, we have a two-lane road just beyond the road.”
Sippy also noted that Grant Creek only has one exit, raising concerns over evacuations. As a resident, she has seen the road get backed up with onlookers during past fires, she said.
Abelin said this would have to be addressed with or without the rezone.
“That is certainly a non-ideal situation. It has been discussed for years,” Abelin said. “I think my view on having a second connection there is that this is a discussion we want to be having no matter what happens at this site, whether or not this is the full build for this project.
“It would be nice to have a second connection and we should probably work on that, and whether or not that has a lot of relevance to this specific project, I guess I personally don’t really see that. That’s something we should be working towards as a community goal, no matter what happens.”
The City Council will have one more discussion on the rezone request on Sept. 2 at the Land Use and Planning committee, before voting on the issue Sept. 14 during its scheduled City Council meeting.