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Missoula officials optimistic as plans for Brooks Street transformation inch forward

City planners hope to defend available funding in an urban renewal district encompassing Missoula’s Midtown district, saying it will be needed to move the Brooks Street corridor project forward when the opportunity comes.

If realized, the project could also spark additional investment along the dated corridor, effectively boosting the city’s budget as a whole and helping it realize other opportunities.

“If the Brooks corridor project moves forward, and there’s a lot of reasons to think that it will, we know we’re going to need a significant match to be able to get federal transit funds, or some of this other infrastructure funding,” said MRA director Ellen Buchanan.

Buchanan described funding available in Urban Renewal District III as healthy, and it may be needed as plans for the Brooks Street corridor inch forward.

In November, the city received the full $847,000 in federal funding it sought to study the Brooks Street corridor and a proposal to convert it to a Bus Rapid Transit system, along with other pedestrian improvements.

The city had expected some funding, but not all of it. The outcome of its request signaled the importance and likelihood that the Brooks project could happen sooner than later, and now that a federal infrastructure bill has been passed.

In 2020, the city’s consultants at HDR determined that while the Brooks Street corridor is capable of moving traffic, it will soon reach capacity. It already faces a number of challenges that impairs traffic, limits economic expansion and hinders non-motorized transportation.

In seeking solutions, transportation officials settled upon a Bus Rapid Transit system that would use a center-running bus lane. That would enable Mountain Line to launch 15 minute service without disrupting traffic in the heart of Midtown.

“If we’re successful at doing that whole project, and doing it the way we envision right now, we’re going to need a $10 million to $20 million match, because we’ll be in excess of a $50 million project that totally transforms that area,” said Buchanan.

The city and county joined received a $13 million federal grant in 2019 to complete infrastructure work in the greater Mullan area, which is set to begin this year. In that case, they also had to provide a match of several million dollars.

For Brooks Street, funding available in Urban Renewal District III will be needed. But even so, a portion of the revenue will also be needed to leverage other public-private projects within the area, which has been identified as suitable for new housing opportunities.

“There is great opportunity for additional development beyond just the street project, which is significant,” said MRA board member Tasha Jones. “I would hope we’d be leveraging as much as we can to allow for greater opportunities.”

Plans for Brooks Street and the rapid bus transit system could also hinge in part on whether Mountain Line is successful in finding a new location to build a new facility.

Last week, it said it was out of space, and without more room to accommodate its growing fleet of electric buses, it would be challenged to expand service to Brooks under the envisioned plan.

“Transit is the essential core of our long-range transportation plan,” city transportation planner Aaron Wilson said last week. “Having a really high-quality transit system is going to be essential for moving forward and how we’re growing.”