Missoula: Now you can drive an SUV down 23rd Avenue without risking jail

Never more will drivers unknowingly face the possibility of six months in jail for piloting a heavy truck or SUV down Missoula’s 23rd Avenue.

On Monday night, City Council members jettisoned a “weird” ordinance that singled out 23rd for special protection, including harsh penalties for those convicted of driving overweight vehicles between Crescent and Summit streets.

Brought to the council’s attention by citizen Mark McMillen, the “weird provision” called for penalties of not less than $300 in fines and/or six months in jail upon conviction of driving a vehicle exceeding 8,000 pounds down 23rd.

There was no explanation for how or why 23rd Avenue wound up with its own, harsh prohibitions and penalties, as weight limits already were specified for that and all other city streets in other laws.

“It didn’t make much sense to (McMillen) and it didn’t make much sense to us either,” said city clerk and legislative services director Marty Rehbein.

“This particular provision says any vehicle over 8,000 pounds – which there’s a lot of pickup trucks and SUVs over 8,000 pounds – can’t drive down 23rd Street,” she said. “I’m sure it happens almost every day.”

And the penalty, Rehbein told council members, is “really terrible and even involves potential time in jail.”

“We already have rules about where truck routes are in the city and about where trucks can lawfully drive,” she said. “This provision is outdated and not appropriate.”

It’s “weird,” she said.

Council members agreed, unanimously nixing the ordinance. (Three council members were absent Monday: Julie Armstrong, Michelle Cares and Stacie Anderson.)

Also approved unanimously Monday was a 25 mph speed limit on Expressway Boulevard in the vicinity of DeSmet School, a slowdown needed to protect children walking and riding bikes to school.

Mirtha Becerra, Ward 2

Proposed by Councilwoman Mirtha Becerra, the temporary speed limit is in effect on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. between Kestrel Drive and Butler Creek Road. The speed limit is now 45 mph.

Becerra explained: “Ward 2 was recently expanded to include the newly annexed area northwest of the Missoula Airport which includes DeSmet School. DeSmet School is an elementary school located on Padre Lane off of Expressway.

“There are a number of elementary schoolchildren who commute to school using the bicycle-pedestrian infrastructure available along Expressway. The school is located adjacent to the Missoula Development Park and the traffic type combined with traffic speeds present a safety hazard for schoolchildren and the school community in general.

“Many schools in the city of Missoula with similar concerns have requested that school-specific signage along with appropriate speed limits during school hours be installed.”

So, too, now will DeSmet.