Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Hoping to prepare the Highway 200 corridor through East Missoula for future funding, the Missoula City Council on Wednesday placed its support behind a grant application that would fund the project's design.

Doing so would bring the vision for the corridor – adopted last year with input from the East Missoula community - closer to being shovel ready where it could compete for construction funding.

“There's really no safe crossings, no sidewalks and no non-motorized facilities. You have school children waiting for the bus on Highway 200 without any lighting, no sidewalk and no safe facilities,” said Aaron Wilson, the city's transportation planner. “It's a barrier to day-to-day life and we see this (grant) as a really good opportunity.”

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.

The project includes sidewalks and bike lanes, safer intersections and the widening of the railroad underpass, which serves a pinch point within the corridor. It also includes lighting and safety improvements. Several pedestrian fatalities have occurred in recent years within the corridor.

Supports of the plan believe it could also position the East Missoula community for private investment.

“There hasn't been a lot of investment in East Missoula and along that corridor,” Wilson said. “We think it fits well with the grant criteria compared to other projects in Missoula. It's high on our priority list at the Metropolitan Planning Organization level.”

The city and county of Missoula sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeg earlier this month to raise the project's profile and lobby for funding.

If approved, the grant would cover the cost of designing the project and enable local government to apply for construction funding down the road.

“We should always position ourselves the best we can so we can get federal funding for completion of a project,” said council member Mirtha Becerra. “Getting it as close to shovel ready as possible is a good thing for us to do.”

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