Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) After completing a study on the Brooks Street corridor and its need for both transit and pedestrian improvements, the city is ready to embark on the next step by designing the project.

Aaron Wilson, the city's transportation manager, said doing so will position the city for federal transportation grants while working with its partners to ensure the project meets a number of goals.

“Our current study is building on those past planning efforts,” said Wilson. “We want to finalize the concept to get it to 15% design. It gets the project ready for funding and cues us up to go after grants or federal funds.”

The city in 2016 conducted a study of the Brooks Street corridor with a goal of introducing a center-running bus-rapid transit system. Improvements would also address the corridor's pedestrian challenges by making it easier to cross at key intersections.

The work also included a market assessment to inform and attract future development. The area was developed during a period of urban sprawl in the 1960s and 70s and remains home to vast parking lots and underutilized land.

Such land-use patterns and the potential for redevelopment and infill were also detailed in the recently adopted Midtown Master Plan. That plan, along with efforts to redesign the Brooks Street corridor, could position the city for federal grants to move the project from concept to reality.

“We'll have a final concept and come up with a funding strategy,” Wilson said of the plan. “At the end of this, we'll have an early preliminary design to know what our right-of-way impacts are, if any, and where transit stations go. We'd start preparing for the next steps as quickly as possible.”

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

The corridor plan includes a number of goals, including introduction of bus-rapid transit line in a center-running lane from Reserve Street to Mount Avenue. The work will also estimate project costs, identify funding opportunities, placement of transit stops, and bring the project to 15% design.

The Transportation Policy Coordinating Committee last week approved the charter guiding the process.

“It seems like we may want to say that climate sustainability and resiliency is being considered in the design,” said committee member Donna Gaukler, who serves as the director of Parks and Recreation. “Climate and environmental issues have been pretty big in our recent grants. We talk a lot about access to the facilities.”

Wilson said the project includes a number of partners including the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, which will likely fund portions of the work. It also includes Mountain Line, which will operate the transit line, and the Montana Department of Transportation, which owns and manages the Brooks Street corridor.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization will also play a role, Wilson said.

“There's a lot of potential interests to involve in the discussions,” Wilson said. “We really want to utilize the MPO in this planning phase, and anything we do on an MDT route has to have MDT buy in.”

Wilson expects the planning process to take roughly one year.

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