By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
A Missoula group known as Midtown Mojo is taking a deeper look at Brooks Street in an effort to transform the congested corridor for uses beyond the automobile.
The group, which includes members of the Missoula City Council, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, Mountain Line and other organizations, launched its plan to revitalize the corridor last year by attending a workshop on the issue hosted by the Sonoran Institute.
“The point was to look at the whole Midtown area – that entire corridor,” said Ellen Buchanan, director of MRA. “Mountain Line looks to put service on Brooks with 15 headways in 2018. We need the density and everything to support that. In any city, that first-tier suburban development is not an easy thing to do.”
Mountain Line has already completed the first two phases of its five-phase long-range transit plan. The next phase includes adding high-frequency bus service to Brooks Street, one of the city’s busiest corridors.
“In order for that to be successful, we need higher density, and we need people to be able to approach Brooks on foot or on bike,” said Corey Aldridge, Mountain Line’s general manager. “We’ve been working over the last year with Midtown Mojo on what this vision should be, and how it should be implemented.”
On Thursday, Beth Osborne, a national transportation policy expert from Washington, D.C., gave the City Council’s Committee of the Whole a crash course on applying for an economic recovery, or TIGER grant.
Since 2009, the grant has provided nearly $4.6 billion to 381 projects in all 50 states, though more than 6,700 applications have been submitted with a total transportation need of $134 billion.
The U.S. Department of Transportation plans to award $500 million in TIGER grants during the upcoming funding round. Midtown Mojo asked Osborne to visit Missoula to help it compete for funding.
“There’s a certain amount of spread that has to happen with the funding, which means no single project really gets more than $25 million at this point,” said Osborne, who serves as president of Transportation for American Consulting. “They generally look at projects that do well in two or three critical areas.”
Projects are scored across a range of categories that include livability, sustainability, safety and economic stimulus, among other areas. Projects are further scored on partner support and innovation.
“Retrofitting these plagued areas isn’t easy – everyone is trying to do it,” Osborne said of Brooks Street. “But it means you have some examples to look at, and you can learn from their mistakes and success. There’s a lot of information out there.”
MRA already has plans to improve a section of Brooks running from Paxson Street to South Reserve. That project includes a new intersection at McDonald Avenue, pedestrian bulb-outs, bike lanes and landscaped medians.
Southgate Mall is also in the early stages of redeveloping the mall and surrounding property, a project that includes future housing and additional retail. The project begins the urban density needed to sustain a high-frequency bus route.
But until the projects come online, Aldridge said, the corridor remains a barrier to transit.
“A good transit plan is a good land-use plan, and without a good land-use plan, transit isn’t successful,” Aldridge said. “It has been shown over and over that transit along a corridor stimulates economic development. But for us to be successful, we need that density – the housing density – and we don’t really have that anywhere.”