In letter to feds, Missoula County pledges match for Mullan Road grid project

As Missoula County prepares to submit an application for an $18 million federal grant to help fund the construction of a road network west of Reserve Street, it’s also pledging to provide a match of $1 million to entice the contribution.

Missoula County commissioners on Tuesday approved a letter to U.S Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao noting their commitment to contribute cash and in-kind services to make the project possible.

“Working together in partnership with your office will make a profound and positive difference in this community for future generations,” the letter states. “Working collaboratively with our public and private partners, we have put together a truly innovative, creatively funded project that addresses a wide range of community needs.”

In early June, Missoula County stated its intention to pursue the federal BUILD grant for the second time in two years. Last year’s efforts came close, but ultimately weren’t successful, despite a local match of $16 million, or roughly half the project’s $33 million cost.

That match included $1 million from the county, $1.6 million in utility extensions and $6.3 million in right-of-way donations. The city also pledged $6.3 million through a combination of cash and impact fees.

This year’s efforts will likely see a similar arrangement, according Karen Hughes with the county’s Community and Planning Services.

“The way we split it up last year, which is what we’re suggesting for this year, is that $500,000 would come from the (county) trails bond and $500,000 would come from Public Works in a combination of the Mullan Road fund and road and bridge funds.”

In a unanimous vote Monday night, the Missoula City Council also placed its support behind this year’s application. The Metropolitan Planning Organization has endorsed the project and the county’s efforts to secure the grant and build the project.

As planned, the “Mullan” project would first connect George Elmer Drive and Mary Jane Boulevard from Mullan Road to West Broadway. England Boulevard would intersect both routes. Trails and improvements to Miller Creek are also included.

Late last month, city transportation planner Arron Wilson said the federal grant requires shovel-ready projects that can be completed in five to seven years after they receive funding. Other projects eyed for improvements in Missoula didn’t rise to that level, he told members of the City Council.

“There aren’t too many projects at that stage and at that level in Missoula,” said Wilson. “We looked at the potential for funding Russell Street, and with this grant there’s been some interest in doing work on Brooks Street. But the only one that seemed ready and appropriate for funding in this round was the Mullan-area project.”

Current and planned growth off Mullan Road west of Reserve Street could be guided with the installation of a proper road network. Projections offered in last year’s grant called for 2,900 new housing units and nearly 7,000 new jobs over the coming years in the project area.

“Planned improvements include infrastructure necessary to allow access to land for development of attainable housing, as well as accommodating commercial and industrial development,” the county’s letter states. “At the same time, this project will improve safety and address congestion by giving the traveling public more modal choices and corridors to get to and from employment centers.”