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Missoula officials prepare comments on infrastructure bill, shift funding for Russell project

Work is underway to complete the first five-lane section of Russell Street. (Missoula Current file photo)

A joint transportation committee comprised of city and county officials approved amendments on Tuesday to Missoula’s transportation improvement program, including the shifting of funds for various projects from one funding year to the next.

The Transportation Policy Coordinating Committee also considered local comments that will be submitted to the federal government as it seeks feedback on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed last November.

City transportation planner Charles Menefee said roughly 100 comments had been submitted nationally thus far, and only two from Metropolitan Planning Organizations – both much larger than Missoula.

Feedback from smaller MPO’s could give mid-sized cities like Missoula more leverage in securing project funding often reserved for larger population areas.

“We’re an MPO with a population of less than 200,000. That’s a minority of MPOs in the county,” Menefee said. “It seems like it’s a distinction that’s made in project eligibility across the bipartisan infrastructure law.”

Among them, the infrastructure bill’s Bridge Investment Program excludes MPOs with a population of less than 200,000. The city and county are asking the feds to include MPOs of all population sizes, saying they too have “significant and important bridges” to maintain.

Local transportation officials also will provide comment on aspects of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality section of the bill as it pertains to carbon reduction. The city and county would like to see more than 2.5% of unused mitigation funding directed toward the Carbon Reduction Program.

“We suggest committing a larger percentage,” Menefee said.

The program provides a discretionary funding source that can be used for other technologies around congestion management. It can also go to support the deployment of alternative fuel vehicles, including electric vehicles and charging infrastructure.

It also looks to projects that don’t result in the construction of new roadway capacity.

“This program provides for the opportunity to fund a wider variety of project types that might be beneficial for emerging mobilities and other programs identified in our Long Range Transportation Plan,” Menefee added.

Members of the Transportation Policy Coordinating Committee also approved several amendments to the local Transportation Improvement Program, including funding that’s earmarked for the next phase of the Russell Street corridor project.

Right-of-way acquisition for the project carries a number of lingering costs, including $2.6 million in both Fiscal Year ’22 and ’23. Another $800,000 in national highway funds are earmarked to secure a cluster of business near Ronan Street.

That property is needed to expand the right-of-way for a wider Russell Street.

“Some of this has been happening opportunistically,” said city transportation manager Aaron Wilson. “But now that we have funding in place, those right-of-way acquisitions will happen more quickly.”

The funding amendments also include the intersection of Russell Street and Broadway. That project carries an estimated cost of $7 million and is now earmarked for Fiscal Year ’26.