In a push to complete a plan dating back to 2002, Missoula County commissioners on Thursday approved an application for a federal grant to finish the road network west of the city and open up land for more housing and industrial development.

The project, rekindled by the county last month, looks to secure a $19 million TIGER grant to complete a network of connector roads between Mullan Road and West Broadway, and provide access to 400 acres of land eyed for industrial development at Missoula International Airport.

The county last applied for the grant in 2012 but wasn't successful.

“It all kind of fits in the bigger picture with the city and the county's urban fringe development project, which defined where they expect the development to occur and put some targets on how much development would occur in each area,” said Jeremy Keene with WGM Group.

That plan envisioned roughly 2,500 units of residential development in the area, as well as commercial and industrial projects. While some of the work has been completed, including sewer along Mullan Road and acquisition of right-of-way, the road network remains unfinished.

It's something the county looks to complete, as does the airport as it moves forward with its own master plan. Among other things, the Missoula County Airport Authority looks to develop roughly 400 acres of property south of the airfield for light manufacturing and industrial development.

“The funding request is to extend key transportation infrastructure to about 400 acres of industrial-zoned land at the airport,” said Keene. “The airport's master plan has identified land that's not needed for aviation use and can be developed for other things, like commercial and industrial use.”

For that to happen, however, the road grid and associated infrastructure must be completed. Among other things, it would connect both George Elmer Drive and Mary Jane Boulevard with Mullan Road and Broadway.

It would also extend England Boulevard west to land owned by the airport. That, the county has said, will enable the airport and Missoula Economic Partnership to begin marketing land that's currently not available in Missoula.

“There's a lot of interest in developing in Missoula and a lot of businesses are looking for fairly large-format sites,” Keene said. “As the county development park has filled in over the last 20 years, we're seeing that's no longer available and we're looking for new places where that development can occur.”

Aside from providing access to the airport's future development park, the project also addresses traffic issues along Mullan Road and North Reserve Street. The project calls for 20,000 feet of new collector roads, providing new connector streets in that part of the city.

Greg Robertson, director of public works for the county, said the project dates back to 2002 with the Mullan Road sewer project. Back then, the intent was to provide the infrastructure needed to support 1,000 homes and open up areas for future growth.

It also sought to alleviate congestion on Reserve Street. That issue has since spread to Mullan Road as the area has grown.

“A lot of the assumptions made are coming true,” Robertson said. “One of the things we did as part of the project was to offer landowners incentive for right-of-way in exchange for reduced assessments. Most of the larger landowners took us up on the offer and donated the major pieces we need to actually develop the project.”

That acquisition could make the county's grant application more competitive.

“A portion of the project south England Boulevard can be located one mile from the airport's new industrial area,” said Keene. “It's a unique opportunity to put workforce housing in close to jobs and bring in new high-tech, high-paying industrial types of businesses.”

The county will know this year if its application is successful.