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Missoula city staffers say solution to sidewalk funding, subsidies forthcoming

City staffers told members of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board on Tuesday that plans are still in the works to find a funding solution to fix, build or replace hundreds of miles of Missoula sidewalks. (Missoula Current file photo)

While the master plan for Missoula’s pedestrian facilities takes shape, so too is a funding model to replace broken or missing sidewalks across the city, employees told members of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board on Tuesday.

What that funding model may look like remains to be seen, though Ben Weiss said it’s being formulated and should be ready soon.

“Engineering is still working out some details,” said the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. “I’m working with them to bring you guys the details of their funding proposal before it goes to council, I just don’t know when it’s happening. It is a challenge, but at least it’s something we’ve been able to quantify.”

That quantification suggested it would take more than a century at the current rate before the city could build or replace Missoula’s entire sidewalk network, including areas lacking sidewalks and replacing others in high-priority areas.

While the city spends roughly $800,000 a year on sidewalks and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency spends around $640,000, progress has been slow and costly.

“Now that City Council is switching around how those assessments are made, that may or may not change,” said Tara Osendorf, a transportation planner with the city. “We recognize not every neighborhood needs sidewalks everywhere. We’re looking at about $84 million to cover everything.”

Homeowners also help pay the bill when replacing sidewalks along their property, and at times the current funding model has proved cost prohibitive.

The city pays the first $1,000 and splits the cost 50-50 with the property owner up to $8,000. The city pays all costs between $8,000 and $20,000, and the property owner is responsible for any costs above $20,000.

“Ninety-five percent of projects are within that $20,000 window, so the most property owners are assessed is $3,500,” said Weiss. “But corner lots that need a lot of street work and drainage, that can be a $60,000 sidewalk project. That’s a $43,000 bill for the property owner and that’s a tough pill to swallow.”

That was the case last year in the Slant Street neighborhood, where several property owners were presented with a substantial bill. It prompted the city to postpone its Pedestrian Facilities Master Plan and take a deeper look at the challenge and potential solutions.

Weiss said one solution could see the city separate out the sidewalk pieces and assess the property owner for the sidewalk only, not the curb and gutter, the fill or the asphalt. But that could increase costs to the city, possibly resulting in a city-wide tax increase or cuts to other services or programs.

Osendorf said the city currently has 231 miles of missing sidewalk. The cost of building a new sidewalk is $68 a linear foot while the cost to replace and repair a sidewalk is $69 a foot.

“Now that City Council is going back to talk about funding for sidewalks, we’ll figure out how to do it in a more successful and equitable way to make sure no individual property owner is taking a larger brunt for all that,” she said.