By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Traffic delays on Brooks Street will continue over the next few weeks as crews work to realign the entry to Southgate Mall and open access to the new east-west connector at Mary Avenue.

The work, which began this week, is part of a larger effort to establish a street grid in what currently serves as an expansive parking lot surrounding the mall. That includes a new entrance north of the old mall entry and a new traffic signal where Mary Avenue will meet the intersection of Brooks and Agnes streets.

“What they intend to do is turn off the signal into the mall, so there won't be any turning motions into the mall,” said Doug Harby, construction projects manager with the city. “They'll remove that old driveway and install all the improvements to the new driveway. There will be lane closures on Brooks both south and north before the light is reinstalled.”

The effort to improve the street grid dates back to last year when Southgate Mall Associates announced its plans to launch a $70 million renovation and expansion project, including the addition of the new AMC dine-in theater currently under construction.

Lucky's Market is also expected to occupy a portion of the old Sears building and open next year.

As part of the redevelopment efforts, the mall and the city have plans to establish a street grid around the mall, an area of town identified to be lacking in public infrastructure.

The first phase of that effort is under construction with Mary Avenue. Once completed, that will connect Brooks and Reserve and include future side streets where housing and retail are expected to land.

“There's a lot of work to do because they're running Mary over to Reserve,” Harby said. “But the light on Brooks should be in and operational within four to six weeks.”

A new report detailing the vision for the Brooks Street corridor calls for a future parking garage, a new Mountain Line transfer center and a safer pedestrian interface in and around the mall. It also calls for greater building densities and additional housing.

Tom Zavitz, a senior planner with Development Services, said the Missoula Redevelopment Agency has issued a request for proposals for an engineering study on the corridor. The information will be used to help the city apply for a grant next April to launch improvements throughout the corridor.

“The idea at this point is to make it more pedestrian friendly and figure out where bus stops and a future transfer center can go,” said Zavitz. “It's at that point where the pieces are trying to pull together.”