By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
The Missoula City Council’s Administration and Finance Committee on Wednesday approved a bond resolution for the construction of Mary Avenue, along with an agreement to oversee the project with Southgate Mall Associates.
The issue will go before the full City Council for final consideration later this month. Approval will authorize the sale of $7.1 million in bonds to fund the construction of Mary Avenue from the Bitterroot Branch railroad tracks east to Brooks Street.
“This plan has been on the books since 1996, there just wasn’t the revenue to do it,” said Ward 5 council member Julie Armstrong. “This (Southgate Mall redevelopment) project triggered the tax increment needed to pay for it.”
Ellen Buchanan, director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, said construction of Mary Avenue west of the railroad tracks to Reserve Street will take place at a later time.
MRA will hire an engineering firm to design the western portion of the project and to work with neighboring residents throughout the process. Until that time, the east and western portions of Mary Avenue won’t be opened to through traffic.
“The public process is probably 10 times more important in this endeavor than engineering a street,” Buchanan said of the western portion of the project. “That skill set will have to be part of the team that is selected.”
While the project won unanimous support from the committee, Ward 3 council member Emily Bentley asked for assurance that the city would commit to building the entire street from Reserve to Brooks at some point in the future.
“I’m afraid we’re going to get stuck with half a street,” said Bentley.
Buchanan said MRA would offer that assurance and bring it back to the City Council.
The project won the praise of Russell School parents and teachers, who believe the new connector street would improve the safety of children going to and from school. It also won the full support of the Missoula Midtown Association.
“These avenues of connectivity service all of Midtown by increasing the ease of travel,” one Midtown representative told the committee. “Pedestrian-friendly enhancements that increase access, reduce pressure on traffic, and add to the visual appeal of Midtown support intelligent development of the area.”