While the city and county of Missoula direct millions of dollars to improve connectivity and address traffic congestion in the greater Mullan area, some members of City Council are asking what plans are in place to address similar concerns in Miller Creek.
Over the past 20 years, development has worked its way south and is inching ever closer to Lolo. The Linda Vista subdivision and others in the Miller Creek area have provided hundreds of new housing units, but ways in and out of the hilly area remain few.
“There continues to be no additional way out of the Linda Vista and Miller Creek neighborhood other than the roundabout and the traffic light at Highway 93,” said council member Stacie Anderson. “There was talk of an additional bridge out to Blue Mountain or Lolo, but none of that has transpired, yet we’re still adding these subdivision supplements and creating more homes.”
The issue surfaced this week as the City Council considers annexing three areas of the Linda Vista development. Two of those additions are already developed and occupied by residents. The third includes around 44 undeveloped lots that are slated for construction once annexation is approved.
While traffic issues don’t impact decisions over annexation, some are wondering what happened to past plans to provide more ingress and egress to the growing south side of Missoula. As it stands, Anderson said, residents believe Miller Creek Road has nearly reached capacity.
“I’m worried at what point in time we’re over-stressing the current infrastructure,” Anderson added. “We’re following the course that was laid out 20 years ago without figuring out where that breaking point is. Folks are feeling like we might be getting close to a tipping point.”
Aaron Wilson, the city’s transportation planner, said transportation options in the area are challenging given the area’s rolling hills, steep terrain and relative isolation.
When the subdivisions were platted and approved more than 20 years ago, he said, an additional connection across the Bitterroot River to Highway 93 near Old Bitterroot Road was on the table.
“There was a feasibility study done in partnership with the Montana Department of Transportation that found that not to be feasible,” Wilson said. “One, there was a challenge to get across the river through sensitive habitat and connect with Highway 93 right there. There’s also challenges with slopes, the river and connectivity.”
Wilson said that a crossing over the river to Highway 93 would do little to improve traffic conditions. A bridge would still place cars onto the highway and eventually back through the Miller Creek intersection.
“You’re taking them off Miller Creek, but you’re adding them back to Highway 93,” he said. “It’s a huge investment that’s not really feasible and doesn’t really solve our traffic issues.”
Wilson said getting more people off the road by riding bikes could help, but bike lanes weren’t included in the development and area residents have been resistant to new bike lanes that remove on-street parking.
Adding a new road south to Lolo also has challenges, he said.
“As far as going south into Lolo, you get similar sorts of feasibility constraints with the river and where you’d actually connect into Lolo,” he said. “That could change as we do more analysis, but it hasn’t been the priority given the constraints down in Lolo. We don’t have a funding source that would allow us to do that right now.”
Wilson agreed that the area’s infrastructure may be nearing capacity, though plans to convert the Brooks Street corridor to a rapid bus transit system could help down the road.
“As we think about the Brooks corridor transit improvements, we can look at things like park-and-ride or connectors to those high frequency transit lines,” he said. “There’s a lot of emerging technology out there and emerging modes, where if we can facilitate those, we could create more opportunities.”
Wilson said a traffic analysis may have been conducted on the area when the subdivisions were approved, though it’s now been many years.
“I can’t tell you how close to capacity we are on Lower Miller Creek Road,” he said. “But the pinch point is really at Highway 93 and Lower Miller Creek. That intersection is likely close to capacity. There’s not a lot of options to move more traffic through that.”