Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) That's a wrap.

After years of planning, visiting Washington D.C. and navigating the challenges of the pandemic, Missoula County this week officially closed out a federal grant that funded infrastructure in the greater Mullan area and lead the way for current and future growth.

Shane Stack, director of Public Works for the country, said the entire project cost around $21 million. Of that, $13 million was funded by a federal BUILD grant, which the city and county received in November 2019.

“We completed the project last summer and are finishing up the paperwork to close out the project,” said Stack. “We wouldn't have been able to get it done as fast as we did if we didn't have the team we did. It was a collaborative effort.”

The grant was received in 2019 and construction was set to begin in 2021. However, it was delayed due to rising costs and a funding gap that continued to grow at the hands of the pandemic.

But with money in hand and a mandated federal deadline to complete the work, crews kept busy throughout the 2022 and 2023 construction season. By then, Stack said, development was quickly moving in.

“The vertical construction was happening at the same time,” he said. “We were already seeing the benefits of having the infrastructure there to accommodate future growth and housing.”

The infrastructure project included a number of primary elements including the extension of Mary Jane and England boulevards and George Elmar Drive, along with sewer and water.

But even as work was still underway, the Missoula City Council was presented with a number of subdivision requests, amounting to hundreds of new homes. Others proposals continue to come in and construction remains steady.

“There's still a lot of dirt being moved out there,” Stack said. “There's continued growth out there. We're experiencing the benefits of what was estimated to happen out there right now.”

mullan grant

The city and county spent years master planning the area to accommodate what's expected to be 6,000 homes, new businesses and commercial opportunities when the work is finished.

At the same time the city and county approved the Mullan Area Master Plan, they also erased Mullan's name from the process. In its place, they named the area “Sxwtpqyen,” which is Salish for “Place Where Something Comes to a Point.” It reflects the area's cottonwoods that thin out going upstream, according to Salish leaders.

With much of the infrastructure work now complete, the county has turned its focus to the Wye. Last week, it revealed a potential master plan and estimated the area could accommodate up to 15,000 homes.

But as did the Sxwtpqyen area before the receipt of the federal grant, the Wye currently lacks the infrastructure to support such density. Still, county officials said the Sxwtpqyen project provided valuable experience as planners now look to the Wye.

“They delivered this complex project at a land-speed record for something so big. And not just at any time, but during a COVID mess,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “We got this done, as we told the federal government we would. We took a bit of a risk doing this, promising we'd get this done on time.”