Despite opposition, City Council directs $1.5M in matching funds to South Avenue improvements
Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
Two members of the Missoula City Council on Monday voted against funding earmarked to improve the city's portion of redeveloping South Avenue into a multi-modal corridor.
The measure passed regardless, positioning the city to join the county in directing matching funds to rebuild the street into something that accommodates various modes of travel and improves public safety.
The improvements would extend the length of South Avenue from Reserve Street to Clements, and from Clements to North Avenue.
“Key features are major intersection improvements at the high school and Fort Missoula Regional Park,” said Charles Menefee, a city transportation planner. “There's some widening of the existing shared-use path, the addition of curb and gutter, and the addition of bike lanes. We're still working on an official design with WGM Group.”
Monday's approval will commit up to $1.5 million in local matching funds toward a federal "Safe Streets for All" grant, so long as the grant is approved later this fall. Council members Sandra Vasecka and John Contos opposed the funding.
In early August, Missoula County approved a professional services agreement with WGM Group to bring the design of South Avenue to 50% completion, positioning it to compete for federal funding. The grant application is due next month.
South Avenue west of Reserve Street has seen significant growth and an increase in traffic in recent years. The narrow road has seen growth around Community Medical Center in recent years. Fort Missoula Regional Park also brings more traffic to the area, as does Big Sky High School.
The improvements have been identified in the city's Long Range Transportation Plan and the county's own plans. The city has twice applied for grants to fund elements of the project but twice has been denied.
The desire to improve South Avenue stems back several years to when construction began on Fort Missoula Regional Park. But not much has happened in recent years, though WGM Group has been working on designs for the past 18 months.
“There is existing shared-use path that ends at about Community Medical Center," said Menefee. "It would continue that shared-use path up to reserve street, and add curb and gutter along the project limits, add a sidewalk on the north side and a bike lane, as well as a two-way left turn lane intended to address a lot of the automobile crash history."
Vasecka on Monday also voted against funding a lobbyist to work on behalf of the City of Missoula during the 2023 Legislature. Vasecka last week said she doesn't believe “government lobbying government” was best practice.