Missoula will take another stab at a $23.1 million federal grant this summer to build a $39 million collector system between Mullan Road and West Broadway, laying the foundation for future growth in a planned and orderly manner.
But this time around, the city and county will take lessons learned from last year’s BUILD grant application, which came close to approval but wasn’t accepted in the final round of vetting.
“We met with the Department of Transportation and they said we were really close,” said county planner Andrew Hagemeier. “They weeded the applications out, like 900 of them, and we were in the top 14 and the top 11 were selected.”
Hagemeier said Missoula’s application didn’t score as high in the category of project readiness. He believes that resulted from a poor explanation of the need for analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act and the time it would take to complete.
Local officials plan to correct the application’s deficiencies, and this week Missoula County commissioners signed a $20,000 contract with WGM Group to assist in the new submission, which will take place next month.
The contract will ensure Missoula’s application meets the Department of Transportation’s 2019 requirements and includes an update on project readiness. WGM Group will also help secure letters of support from Montana stakeholders.
The city and county are splitting WGM’s $20,000 cost.
“Out of all the worthy projects in the community, it makes sense to do this project again, because the application is ready and all we have to do is tweak it,” Hagemeier told the Missoula Current.
The project has the full support of the city and county, both of which are working to get ahead of rapid growth on the city’s western edge. The city annexed much of the area in question last year, though the project remains a coordinated effort.
Projections for the area, loosely bounded by Reserve Street and the airport, and Mullan Road and West Broadway, call for nearly 3,000 units of housing and 7,000 new jobs over the next 20 years.
Efforts to connect the area with a proper grid system have been nearly two decades in the making.
“We’re getting tons of development pressure in that area right now,” Hagemeier said. “It’s not on the ground yet, but the inquiries are there both at the county and city. There’s a lot of interest.”
Among other things, the project looks to extend George Elmer Drive and Mary Jane Boulevard from Mullan Road north to West Broadway, creating two north-south connectors.
It would also extend England Boulevard further west, opening access to the airport and its plans for light industrial development and future job creation on the southern edge of its property.
Current traffic models suggest that such a network would take pressure off Reserve Street by opening other routes. It could cut congestion by 95,000 hours a year and reduce vehicle miles traveled by 3.6 million, the plan suggests.
“It would change the development dynamic in that area,” said Hagemeier. “It would really make a difference in the near-term housing supply that’s available in the community, so that’s super important.”
While the system may fill in eventually without a grant, Hagemeier said it could take decades to achieve. The grant would help expedite the process and get ahead of the growth.
“If we don’t get a grant for this, all that would be developed by the developer incrementally over time,” he said. “But what’s going to happen is, you’ll get two blocks built, and 10 years later you’ll get another two blocks built, and none of them would get the whole system.”
Other supporters also are advocating for the project and the grant’s successful outcome, including the Missoula Economic Partnership and the Missoula Organization of Realtors.
MEP is traveling to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the project and MOR has already met with Sen. Steve Daines’ office. While the support is welcome by county officials, they’re looking to establish a more coordinated approach with consistent answers.
A meeting among local stakeholders is planned next week.
“I’m personally really excited about this,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “But I want to make sure our lobbying effort is coordinated and strategic. I know it has bounced around a little bit. We really need to be coordinated and strategic.”