While the big push to place infrastructure in the greater Mullan area ahead of current and future growth has been delayed until next year, smaller elements of the project are now underway.
Both the city and county also are watching the infrastructure bill now before the Senate, and they remain hopeful that any revenue provided by the measure includes direct allocations to municipalities if it passed.
“The devil remains in the details and our advocacy has been for that – for the feds to follow a similar model as they’ve done for APRA and CARES and do some direct allocation to cities and counties,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen. “It takes a bunch of overhead out of the system. If we get some of those direct allocations, we’ll be in a position to do a lot.”
This week, Missoula County approved a $113,000 contract amendment with DJA to continue pre-project inspections and material testing in the Mullan area ahead of an anticipated construction start next spring.
The early work covers the extension of George Elmar Drive and Mary Jane Boulevard, both of which will become new north-south connectors linking Mullan Road and West Broadway.
“They (DJA) will be out coordinating dry utility locations and relocation, things like gas and fiber and power and phone,” said Shane Stack, the county’s director of public works. “All those things have to be relocated in certain locations to allow for construction when the BULID project does start.”
Stack said the county and DJA don’t yet have a traditional construction contract, though that’s likely to come. Until then, the contract amendment allows DJA to continue some of the work it’s already doing in the Mullan area, “and dig into some of these construction related efforts.”
The Mullan project was set to begin this year but was delayed when material costs and a labor shortage pushed it beyond budget, resulting in a funding gap of around $3 million. The county has around $19.3 million available for the work, which includes the $13 million federal BUILD grant received by the county in 2019.
Stack said the plan now looks for a spring construction start.
“That’s the timeline we’re on track for right now,” he said. “The controlling factor in all of that is if we end up with additional funding in the budget for the remainder of the work, as well what bid prices we get. If those numbers all align, we’ll stay on schedule.”
Both the city and county remain hopeful that additional funding could come available. The county initially applied for a $23 million federal BUILD grant and received $13 million. That forced planners to prioritize elements of the project and delay others.
Engen said his office has been in contact with Sen. Jon Tester, and local government may apply for another grant to cover more of the costs associated with the Mullan project.
“We did some outreach with Sen. Tester’s office, and we’re still kicking some tires there,” Engen said. “I think we were going to take another run at the BUILD grant. There’s a little optimism there. We have to see how the infrastructure bills do.”
The BUILD grant is now referred to as a TIGER grant, but the funding would do the same.