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City approves letter of intent to sell Scott Street property to Mountain Line

A rendering of the new facility Mountain Line hopes to build if awarded federal funding.

At a price to be determined, the City of Missoula this week agreed to sell 3.5 acres of property to Mountain Line to help accommodate its future spatial needs and plans to fully electrify its fleet.

Mountain Line sought the letter of intent from the city as it sets out to apply for a $50 million federal grant. If awarded, the grant would fund the construction of a new transit facility in the growing Scott Street area.

“We simply need more space to meet current and future programming needs,” said Colin Woodrow, the projects and planning specialist for Mountain Line. “We can’t continue to electrify our fleet without a new facility.”

While the letter is needed to bolster Mountain Line’s grant application, the actual sale of the city’s property isn’t ready to happen. The land hasn’t been appraised and a fair market value hasn’t been identified.

John Adams, the city’s strategic projects administrator, said the city will also seek its own assurances from Mountain Line when a sales transaction takes place.

“In order for the sale to be completed, the two entities need to reach agreement on a number of issues that we believe are important to the neighborhood and city priorities,” Adams said. “We think we’ve successfully created a plan that helps support the expansion of transit in the community while also mitigating the opportunity costs of selling this land that could otherwise be used for housing.”

Mountain Line has grown over the past decade in both ridership and service, and it already has begun a conversion to electric buses. But its current facility on Shakespeare Street is tight and no longer functions as needed.

The agency wants to move north of the railroad tracks to property near Rodgers and Otis streets. It has rudimentary designs for a new facility that would provide parking for dozens of buses, room for mechanics and a route plan that would largely avoid surrounding residential growth.

But the area’s infrastructure will require its own public investment, including a new interchange on Interstate 90 and securing the right-of-way for future connections.

“There’s a breaking point for Scott Street as the primary access in and out of that area,” said Jeremy Keene, the city’s director of Public Works. “We’re going to need other options. We’re going to have to have some other pieces in place.”

While a number of projects are taking place in the area, several others are still in planning, including a master-planned housing development on city property and the relocation of city shops. A new Mountain Line Facility will also take several years before it becomes operational.

“I look at it as a five to 10 year timeline to get those pieces in place,” Keene said. “We’ve received some grant money from the EPA to look at transportation connections in this area. We’re taking the next steps to develop the preliminary engineering and costs in getting some of these other pieces in place.”