The City of Missoula continues to pursue a number of transportation plans that could set the stage for smoother public transit and guide future redevelopment in the city’s core.
While investments reaching nearly $20 million are on tap for areas west of Reserve Street next spring, other areas including Higgins Avenue, Brooks Street, and Front and Main streets, are also set for changes.
Most of the goals eye a new age of public transit, which is expected to reduce traffic congestion as the city grows. Transit could also spark new development along key routes.
“With the Brooks Street corridor, Higgins, and Front and Main, all of those are moving toward a point of decision and what we do with transit, and does it come all the way up Brooks and through the Hip Strip into downtown, or does it go up Stephens,” said Ellen Buchanan, director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.
“That’s going to have a big impact on what the cross-section of Higgins is, especially through the Hip Strip where there are a lot of constraints and a lot of needs.”
To begin moving forward, the city approved a $200,000 contract with Kittelson and Associates in April to explore potential changes to Higgins Avenue – all intended to accommodate a wider a range of needs.
The downtown master plan suggests that Higgins must transform into a “people place” to better move traffic, spark economic investment and make it safer for all users. A final concept is expected early next year, and public meetings will take place over the coming months.
“The goal is to develop a concept for a really multi-model street that serves all the users and creates that postcard street for Higgins, creating that gateway into downtown,” said Aaron Wilson, the city’s transportation planner.
Final plans for Higgins could also be influenced in part by plans for Brooks Street. MRA has contracted HDR Engineering to explore the feasibility of transforming the Midtown corridor into a Bus Rapid Transit System.
As proposed – and practiced in other cities that have already moved that direction – transit would run down the center of the corridor from Reserve Street into the downtown district on 15-minute intervals. Stations would be placed along the way.
The Midtown area currently accommodates 2,000 businesses and employs around 17,000 people. But growth has been largely unplanned over the decades, and advocates are looking to change that by guiding new development.
“Midtown is working on funding for a Midtown Master Plan,” Buchanan said. “A lot of the funding is going to come from the private sector.”
Plans for transit along the Brooks Street corridor may require greater housing density, and the area is ripe with opportunity, city planners have said. A master plan and center-running transit could help attract investment to the area and fuel its transformation.
“We know this is really an area that’s going to help us solve our housing problems as well. We have to make that an environment that people want to live in, work in and shop in, and not just drive through,” Buchanan said. “We’re well on our way to getting that done.”
Efforts to convert Front and Main streets in downtown Missoula have been on the books for years, though Buchanan said the effort is still alive. The city has met with area stakeholders and in April, it approved a $450,000 design and engineering contract to get the project “shovel ready” in the event that federal funding becomes available.
Like the Brooks Street corridor, the downtown district also has an eye on additional housing. A number of smaller housing projects have taken place in recent years, including new townhouses and micro-apartments.
Buchanan said investors are looking at more opportunities.
“The downtown housing we’ve been striving for is finally starting to come to fruition,” she said. “That’s a really positive sign for downtown. A lot of our transportation plans are solidifying.”