Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The City of Missoula has wrapped a number of downtown transportation projects into one bucket and is directing a $25 million federal grant, received last year, to fund the work.

It's also looking to appoint an advisory committee to help oversee the project, and it's looking to include as many interests as possible.

“We're trying to get a broad spectrum of folks on that working group to represent as many interests as possible,” said Ellen Buchanan, director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. “In February, we'll try to figure out what the composition of that group will be so it's a manageable, workable size.”

The work, dubbed the Downtown Safety, Accessibly and Mobility (SAM) project, includes a number of changes to the downtown district's transportation network.

Among them, Front and Main streets will be converted back to two-way traffic. A feasibility study conducted in 2015 found that converting the two streets back to two-way traffic would create more parking and improve the flow of non-motorized travel. The study also suggested that local businesses would see an economic boost of around 13% from customer traffic.

Since then, other project elements have been added to the SAM project, including a lane reduction on Higgins Avenue between Broadway and Brooks Street. The project was approved by the City Council last year.

As proposed, that project would reduce the number of driving lanes from four to two while adding a dedicated left-turn lane. It would also install new cycling facilities.

Other efforts under the SAM project include a wider Riverfront Trail, new gateways into Caras Park, and an ADA ramp on Beartracks Bridge. The working group will oversee all elements of the SAM project, and MRA wants the group to represent as many interests as possible.

“We have a pretty nice array of folks who have applied so far,” said Maci MacPherson, the communications specialist at MRA. “I don't think we're missing any certain population at this point.”

The city last year applied for a federal RAISE Grant and was awarded $25 million for the SAM project after an announcement from Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines. Still, city officials have said the project will take “multiple years” to complete.

The grant award is one of the largest ever received in Montana and is $9 million more than the grant awarded to build infrastructure in the greater Mullan area to accommodate new development.

Buchanan said other downtown projects are also moving forward, including plans to redevelop the old library block. Last August, the city and Missoula Economic Partnership contracted Edlen & Co/deChase Miksis to create and design the project in partnership with local stakeholders.

“They have selected local partners to work with as they develop concepts for reuse of the block,” said Buchanan. “MRA has contracted with a local geotechnical firm to do some required soil testing.”