Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) With an eye on the future, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency has placed a number of community investment projects into its Fiscal Year 24 budget, including the cost of matching future transit grants.

The plans, which range from converting Brooks Street to a bus-rapid transit system and lighting the Bitterroot Branch Trail, creates a placeholder in MRA's current and future budgets.

“These CIP projects are going to create a placeholder in our budget. As these projects develop, they'll come to the MRA board. This is what we see in the coming year,” said MRA project manager Todd Gass.

The list includes a number of projects, including those identified in MRA's exit strategy for Urban Renewal District II. The district will sunset in roughly eight years, and certain projects have been identified as a priority before the clock runs out.

Among other things, they include an expansive sidewalk and water initiative in areas off Russell Street. MRA also has permission from Montana Rail Link to explore the feasibility of converting the railroad bridge at McCormick Park into a bicycle and pedestrian bridge.

The project would essentially complete the last remaining gap in the Bitterroot Branch Trail.

“We're moving it forward with a feasibility study,” Gass said. “We're under contract with HDR to study the feasibility of making that connection. We're pretty close to having that (study) done. We'll be developing conceptual designs and putting some preliminary costs to that.”

A bus rapid transit system is planned along the Brooks Street corridor.
A bus rapid transit system is planned along the Brooks Street corridor.

Estimated construction costs are $3.5 million, Gass said.

The exit strategy also calls for lighting the Bitterroot Branch Trail. The project has been billed as a safety initiative and qualifies for tax increment under state law.

Without MRA's investment, the trial would stay dark. The city will begin seeking proposals to light the trail this week.

“It'll install trail lighting for the length of the trail in the heart of the city,” Gass said. “It enhances public safety for trail users.”

In anticipation of a large housing development on city land, MRA will also create a placeholder to fund infrastructure work off Scott Street. The project is likely to cost around $3.5 million and would include several roads, improvements to Scott Street and utilities, including sewer and water.

The housing project, proposed by Ravara, will deliver around 70 deed-restricted condominiums and townhomes, along with roughly 200 market-rate apartments. Commercial amenities have also been proposed including food outlets, a market, a gym or a daycare.

“This involves the buildout and extension of Charlo, Shakespeare and Palmer streets, and improvements along Scott Street,” said Gass. “Water and sewer utilities are also part of that development.”

With an eye on future projects, MRA also plans to begin saving for the cost of a local match in hopes of landing a federal grant to convert Brooks Street into a fix-route transit corridor, or bus rapid-transit system.

Gass said it's likely the city will seek a federal grant in 2028, and funding for the local match – estimated at $10 million – will take several years to compile.

“We have to start planning now for that expense down the road,” said Gass. “There's been a lot of involvement in the Midtown Master Plan to identify this transit as the backbone for redevelopment.”

Last year, the city and Mountain Line received a federal RAISE grant to analyze the transit system and develop a conceptual design, which is currently in progress, Gass said.