Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Both the city and county of Missoula have eyed improvements to South Avenue for years, and with federal funding available for certain transportation improvements, they hope the time is right to make a move.

Commissioners on Tuesday 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.

Shane Stack, the county's director of Public Works, said the improvements extend the length of South Avenue from Reserve Street to Clements, and from Clements to North Avenue.

“The engineering work will be rolled into an application for a Safe Streets For All grant,” Stack said. “That project would encompass an application for federal funding to improve sidewalks and shared-use paths along South.”

The grant application is due in September, and Stack said WGM should have the project to 50% design by then.

South Avenue west of Reserve Street has seen significant growth and an increase in traffic in recent years. The narrow road has seen the medical industry around Community Medical Center grow significantly in recent years.

Fort Missoula Regional Park also brings traffic to the area with it's array of leagues and events. A number of housing projects also are taking place along South.

Stack said portions of the project will cost around $2.5 million to complete. The improvements have been identified in the city's Long Range Transportation Plan and the county's own plans.

A new South Avenue bridge over the Bitterroot River could be completed at some point in the future. But Stack said improvements to the roadway itself aren't tied to the bridge.

“You're looking at sidewalks and shared-use paths connecting them to Target Range School, all the way down South Avenue to Reserve,” Stack said. “The need is there regardless of whether or not a bridge goes in.”