Highway 200 plans through East Missoula inspire, but could cost $25M to complete

A stretch of the Highway 200 corridor through East Missoula envisions sidewalks, boulevards and a raise bicycle lane, among other improvements.

Transportation planners and residents of East Missoula have long envisioned improvements to the Highway 200 corridor through town, and plans to reshape the roadway from Van Buren Street to Tamarack Road continue to move forward.

But with an estimated price tag of $25 million, it could take years to fund the project, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board learned this week.

“We have no timeline for when this would actually move forward and be built,” said Ben Weiss, a planner with the city’s bicycle and pedestrian program. “They’re estimating this being in the neighborhood of $25 million, and it’s unclear where that funding would come from right now.”

While the funding hasn’t been identified, plans continue to move forward. They cover the Highway 200 corridor from Van Buren Street in Missoula and extend to East Missoula and end at Tamarack Road.

The preferred alternative on East Broadway includes a shared-use path and sidewalks on the south side of the road, along with curb and gutter, and bike lanes. No sidewalks are planned for the north side of the road in that stretch.

“Right of way is limited in places, and there’s really not many destinations on that side,” Weiss said. “People really gravitated toward the shared-use path in this alternative. We wanted to design for what people do.”

The bike lanes would transition to a raised cycle track in East Missoula, and a roundabout is planned for the eastbound interchange at Interstate-90. The East Missoula stretch would also include sidewalks, boulevards and trees.

The planned improvements led residents of East Missoula last week to oppose a mini-storage project proposed along the corridor, saying it ran contrary to their vision for the changing community. The county agreed and denied the project.

Weiss said the cycle track would include safety measures at various intersections.

“They are talking about a rapid rectangular flashing beacon being added, where you push a button and it flashes to get the driver’s attention,” Weiss said. “It increase the yield rates and safety for everybody.”

The corridor plan also considers the parking challenges at the popular Sha-Ron fishing access site just beyond East Missoula.

For the past year, Missoula County has expressed concerns over highway safety when the small parking lot fills and recreators are forced to park along the highway and lug their tubes, paddle boards and other equipment to the river.

The county is working with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Montana Department of Transportation to find solutions. The Highway 200 Corridor Plan also has identified several options.

“We’re looking at ways to improve that, both with parking and pedestrians,” Weiss said. “We’re hoping that it’s safer and more convenient for people using that fishing access. They’re looking at parking options.”

The raised cycle track through East Missoula would convert back to a shared-use path as it leaves town. The path would extend north along Highway 200 to Tamarack Road.

While the plans have received praise from those involved in the process, it’s not the first time efforts have been made to improve the corridor. Over the past eight years, a total of 16 different transportation plans and options have been completed on the corridor.

“This is a high level planning concept for design,” Weiss said. “None of the engineer work has been done. When the final plan is adopted, the idea would be that this would guide project development when that comes forward.”

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