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Sustainable Missoula: Looking to the past, planning the future

Missoula is growing and shows no signs that growth will slow. In the next 25 years, Missoula is expected see a 48% growth in population. That’s 43,000 more people – 10,000 more residents than the entire current population of Helena.

This translates to a 54% increase in the number of trips on our roadways. Without significant transportation improvements, the extent of congested roadways will dramatically increase. Average trip travel time will grow by 20% and the length of delay occurring per trip in Missoula will nearly double.

Transportation is integral to many, if not all, of Missoula’s goals. Motor vehicle travel accounts for a whopping 37%  of our greenhouse gas emissions (2014 data). Transportation costs are the second highest household expense, further reducing affordability and economic sustainability of our community’s residents.

Transportation infrastructure needs continue to outpace local, state and federal funding sources. This is further complicated by the fact that the lack of safe, accessible infrastructure for all ages and all abilities continues to be a barrier to social equity.

Transportation does not exist in a box, isolated from economic and social factors. How we choose to grow is important and solutions will be complicated. Take Reserve Street as an example. When that roadway expansion was completed in the mid-1990s, the design was intended to accommodate 20 years of growth. Instead, congestion returned in less than eight years. We cannot sustain this approach to transportation if we want to accommodate future growth.

So what can we do? For a start, we can all participate in planning for a different future. The Missoula Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Missoula’s regional transportation authority, is here to help facilitate that planning. Formed in the early 1980s, the MPO is responsible for planning and programming all federal transportation funds within the Missoula area, and is charged with ensuring a coordinated, cooperative approach to addressing our transportation needs.

The primary way the MPO does this is through the Long Range Transportation Plan.

In 2016, the MPO laid a path forward based on pursuing a multi-modal transportation strategy. The plan aims to reduce drive-alone trips by half, and increase all other modes such as transit, biking and walking by a factor of three. This is the middle ground between auto-dependent and car-free strategies, and addresses both the need to be more efficient in our use of existing facilities while also acknowledging that many of us will continue to rely on a car for the foreseeable future.

Multi-modal transportation means investing in:

  • A network of options that reduce transportation costs
  • Safe facilities for walking, biking, and driving
  • A robust transit system
  • Compact neighborhoods, where housing, jobs, and services are close by
  • Livability and high-quality physical design
  • Housing affordability, so that people can afford to live where they have access to transportation choices

If we can achieve our multi-modal goals, we can decrease our greenhouse gas emissions from transportation by as much as half (nearly 20% of our total). We can increase housing affordability by reducing household transportation costs by as much as $5,000 per year – the equivalent of decreasing a 30-year mortgage by $150,000. We can also reduce the tax burden of residents by forgoing costly new road expansions.

To take action on our goals, the MPO is launching into a review and update of that plan throughout the next year.

There will be many opportunities to participate. The first of which is a look back at the history of growth and transportation in Missoula over the past 100 years. This event, on March 6 from 5 to 7 p.m., will include viewing historic photos, maps, newspaper articles, and planning documents as well as the opportunity to learn about the upcoming MPO’s Long Range Transportation Plan update, which will guide transportation planning for the next 30 years.

We look forward to thinking hard about the complex challenges our community faces, and engaging with groups, individuals or anyone with an interest in how to shape our transportation future. We are actively interested in connecting with the community as part of this process. You’ll likely see our team during First Fridays, Out to Lunch, farmers markets, neighborhood gatherings and even at the grocery store to reach as many folks as possible. We’ll have surveys, prompts, games and more to collect your feedback.

You can stay connected through our project website, Facebook page, or by contacting our public involvement lead, Katie Klietz of Big Sky Public Relations. The best way we can develop a long-range transportation plan that reflects our community’s values is to hear from our community.

Please consider lending your voice and experience to this project to achieve a sustainable Missoula.

Aaron Wilson is the Transportation Planning Manager for the City of Missoula. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every Friday by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Upcoming Sustainability Events

Every Friday. Missoula Friday Climate Strike. Noon – 1pm. February strikes are at NorthWestern Energy’s Headquarters. Stand in solidarity with climate strikers around the world. Coordinated by Families for a Livable Climate and Sunrise Missoula. More here.

Now through mid-March. Dear Tomorrow Missoula letter writing project, sponsored by Climate Smart Missoula and Families for a Livable Climate. Dear Tomorrow is a global storytelling project focused on sharing personal messages about climate change to inspire action. Details here.

Feb 29. Earth Day Planning for Missoula. Join Families for a Livable Climate & others to plan the 50th anniversary of Earth Day events. 10:30-11:30 am at the UM FLAT (633 S 5th St E)

March 1. Glass Drop-off. Recycling Works & Imagine Nation  offer this waste reduction event! Only colored and clear glass (no light bulbs or window-glass please) for a fee of $1 per gallon. Noon – 6 p.m. at Imagine Nation Brewing Co.

March 5. UM’s Seeking Sustainability Lecture Series continues. Meets Thursdays 7 – 8:30 pm through April 16 in Gallagher Business Building room 122. Free and open to all. Learn how UM, local government, nonprofits and businesses are working together to create a sustainable community and how you can help. The weekly schedule is here. This Thursday: Zero Waste.

March 6. History of Transportation & Planning during First Friday. 5-7 p.m. downtown at the Hammond Arcade. Details here.

March 7. FIXIT Clinic. Get help repairing stuff and help move our community towards Zero Waste. Family-friendly fun and helpful Fixit coaches. Free. 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Home ReSource Community Room. Details here.