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Missoula County records Sxwtpqyen project changes as more funding is sought

Project elements included with the Sxwtpqyen (Mullan) Area Master Plan include nearly two miles of new major collectors roads and several roundabouts at various intersections within the project area. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

Missoula County on Tuesday approved a number of housekeeping items related to the Mullan area infrastructure project slated to break ground this spring, including the removal of several projects now planned for construction at a later date.

The $13 million in federal funds earmarked for elements of the Sxwtpqyen (Mullan) Area Master Plan are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act, while the project itself was evaluated for its environmental impacts under a categorical exclusion.

Shane Stack, director of Public Works for Missoula County, described the changes as simple housekeeping items that won’t impact the the project’s first phase, set to begin this year.

“We completed the NEPA document in November of 2020,” said Stack. “Since then, we’ve made a few scope changes and because of that, we have to document that and submit a reevaluation to the Federal Highway Administration.”

As submitted last year, the project includes nearly two miles of new major collectors roads that will extend Mary Jane Boulevard, George Elmer Drive and England Boulevard. It also includes several roundabouts at various intersections with the project area.

A number of water projects also are included, along with bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

But while the county applied for a $23 million federal grant, it received just $13 million, meaning some elements of the project initially planned for Phase 1 aren’t yet funded. That required planners to reduce the initial scope of work, requiring changes to the documentation submitted to the federal government.

“The categorical exclusion only covers the work we’re doing with the federal funding from BUILD,” said Stack. “We’ve got a larger project area where we’ll want to build everything. But with limited funds, we can only focus the categorical exclusion on those elements of the project we’ll fund with the BUILD funding.”

Among the changes, the Flynn Lane Trail will be deferred to another date and removed from the initial project phase. The roundabout planned at George Elmer Drive and England Boulevard was also removed until future funding is identified.

Stack said other changes to reduce initial costs include changing some roads from urban to rural, meaning sidewalks, curb and gutter will be delayed where Phase 1 terminates at the urban edge.

“The street restoration and trails that will be funded later with local dollars or future grant funding isn’t part of this first phase,” said Stack. “It was an effort to try and save money and stay within the allotted budget.”

Delaying the “urban” style improvements in some areas will enable the funded portion of work to maximize available funding, Stack said. The county believes that will serve as the infrastructure backbone as the area develops over the coming years.

In the end, the area identified in the master plan will accommodate 6,000 new housing units, 7,000 jobs and help absorb the additional 20,000 residents expected to reside in Missoula over the coming decade.

“It also means that when houses are built and driveways are installed, that good work won’t have to be undone,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick.