By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Members of the Missoula City Council's Administration and Finance Committee on Wednesday approved a $1.6 million revenue bond to construct the western stretch of Mary Avenue to Reserve Street.

Approval of the project, which covers design and building costs, will coincide with the construction of Mary Avenue East at Brooks Street, which is already under way.

The entire roadway, set to open by October, creates a new east-west connector in an area of Missoula that lacked public infrastructure.

“This allows us to dovetail on the construction of Mary Avenue through the mall property and also the Clark Street sidewalk project that's going on in the adjacent block,” said MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “We'll get all the construction done in one fell swoop.”

Early last year, the City Council approved the sale of $7.1 million in bonds to construct Mary Avenue East – that portion running from Brooks Street across Southgate Mall to the Bitterroot Branch railroad tracks.

At that time, MRA hired an engineering firm to design the western stretch of the roadway from the tracks to Reserve. It also hired a consultant to work with area residents on the project's design.

“First Security Bank is buying the bonds,” Buchanan said. “The terms are good and coverage is good in the district.”

While the intersection of Mary Avenue and Brooks Street will gain a traffic signal, the intersection of Mary and Reserve will not, at least at the start.

Buchanan said a recent traffic study by the Montana Department of Transportation suggested a signal wasn't warranted, though that could change.

The cost of a future signal would likely be covered by impact fees triggered by new development, Buchanan said.

“There are proposals for some new development on Mary that could trigger the warrant,” Buchanan said. “With the Mary Avenue situation, you're going to have a collector street that's never existed before. Everything is based on projected traffic models. There's very little reality out there on the ground right now.”

Buchanan said the entire stretch of Mary Avenue from Brooks to Reserve should open by October. The new AMC theater at Southgate Mall is expected to open around the same time.