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Mullan infrastructure work on track for spring start; funding gap remains

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected from an earlier version to note that a roundabout, not a traffic signal, is planned at the intersection of George Elmer Drive and Flynn Lane.

Despite construction delays and the inflation of material and labor costs, the City of Missoula plans to launch construction of the Mullan-area infrastructure project next year, officials said on Thursday.

Plans call for around $19 million in work associated with Phase 1 next year. Of that, around $3.4 million has been approved for the installation of a roundabout at Mullan Road and George Elmer Drive, and extending Mary Jane Boulevard to its full length north and south.

“We experienced quite a bit of inflation over the last year and had to delay the project’s start,” said Jeremy Keene, director of Public Works for the city. “We’re still on track to break ground next spring. But we did have to do some rescoping and take some things out to make sure we have enough money to cover those inflated costs.”

Keene said work in Phase 1 includes the $13 million federal BUILD grant received by the city and county several years ago. The funding also includes $4.5 million in water and wastewater debt service, and around $1.2 million transportation impact fees.

Efforts to cover the $21 million in work included in Phase 2 will lean on special impact fees approved by the City Council earlier this year.

Those fees represent a one-time payment placed on new development within the designated area. The resulting revenue provides the funding needed to accommodate new development without taxing other property owners in other parts of Missoula.

“The special impact fees are intended to fund the gap for the rest of the project,” Keene said. “We are collecting that money now, and it will go toward building out those future phases. My hope is that we continue to do construction in FY23 and FY24.”

The funding package also includes the city’s purchase of the Flynn-Lowney Ditch. The ditch takes in water from the Clark Fork River near downtown Missoula and funnels it out to the Mullan area.

Acquiring the ditch and taking it out of operation will save developers money when building out the Mullan area, Keene said.

“It reduces our infrastructure costs where we have to cross the ditch. We also have an issue with groundwater the ditch causes, which affects the way we do storm drainage,” Keene said. “By acquitting the ditch and decommissioning it, we reduce our costs out there for the BUILD project to the tune of around $625,000, likely more than that in the long run. It also reduces the cost for other development happening out there.”

Purchase of Flynn-Lowney Ditch could ease Clark Fork erosion, aid Mullan growth