Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The city and county of Missoula will send a letter to the U.S. secretary of transportation seeking a federal grant to help plan the redevelopment of the Highway 200 corridor through East Missoula.

The plan, adopted by local agencies last year, remains unfunded. But if the grant were approved, it would cover the cost of designing the project and enable the county to seek construction funding.

“This grant would provide additional planning work so we can get to the 30% design stage to put us on a better track for future construction,” said transportation planner Jon Sand.

The vision to reshape the East Missoula corridor from Van Buren Street to Tamarack Road carries an estimated cost of $26 million, and it could take years to fund.

Some of the plan's highest priorities carry the highest costs, including the East Missoula streetscape project, which rings in at around $7 million. That project includes newly aligned intersections, raised cycle tracks, a center turn-lane and six-foot sidewalks on both sides.

But the project's most expensive element includes widening the Montana Rail Link bridge on Highway 200, estimated at $10.8 million. The existing structure is narrow and allows just enough room for two passing vehicles.

east missoula

Other project elements include on street bike lanes along Highway 200 from the Van Buren intersection to the railroad bridge. Improved parking and access to the Sha Ron recreation site is also included.

Sand said the amount being sought in the planning grant remains undetermined.

“We're still in negotiations with the city and county on the local match amount,” he said. “There's been discussion with MDT about having them provide some of the non-federal match.”

In its letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigeg, Missoula County commissioners describe the project as an effort to remove barriers, retrofit existing facilities to address safety and accommodate various forms of transportation.

“Currently, these communities are functionally cut-off from one another due to a lack of safe non-motorized facilities for those walking and biking, as well as the barriers created by Highway 200 and the railroad,” the county wrote in its letter. “The Corridor Plan, if funded and built, will provide dedicated non-motorized connections, which increase access between urban Missoula to eastern Missoula to the more rural section further to the east.”

The county also contends that the project would help meet local climate goals by encouraging non-motorized transportation.

“Anything we can do to bring resources to implement the plan we've adopted for the vision we've adopted for the corridor would be great,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier.