Martin Kidston

Missoula County this week placed its official stamp on efforts to secure a federal grant to make improvements to South Avenue.

Commissioners approved a letter directed to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg voicing support for the project, saying it would make needed improvements to an increasingly busy street.

“This project will provide much needed safety and accessibility improvements to a busy corridor that serves several schools, a hospital and a medical campus, a large regional park, senior living and other group homes, worship centers, and multiple other businesses and residences,” the county noted in its letter.

Commissioners in early August approved a professional services agreement with WGM Group to bring the design for South Avenue to 50% completion, making it viable to compete for federal funding.

If funded, the improvements would extend the length of South Avenue from Reserve Street to Clements, and from Clements to North Avenue.

“This area will receive more traffic in the future,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “It's already a super unsafe area for kids walking to school. Even if we don't get this grant, we'll have an opportunity to apply for another one.”

South Avenue west of Reserve Street has seen significant growth and an increase in traffic in recent years. The medical industry around Community Medical Center has grown, along with other medical specialty clinics.

Fort Missoula Regional Park also brings traffic to the area with its array of leagues and events. A number of housing projects also are taking place within the design area.

“Despite serving all these destinations, much of the street lacks basic safety features like curb and sidewalk,” the county said. “South Avenue has an alarming crash history, including pedestrian fatalities that must be addressed.”

If approved, funding from the Safe Streets and Roads for All Discretionary Grant will help modernize the section of road, make room for those walking and biking with new sidewalks, bike lanes and a pathway, and increase opportunities for public transportation.