The city of Missoula is working to develop new projects to deal with city growth, partially funded by a federal BUILD grant. City planner Aaron Wilson and Missoula County planner Andrew Hagemeier spoke to KGVO News about the initial planning phase and ways that the community can get involved.

Both Wilson and Hagemeier have spent years working in their respective fields. Wilson's focus is on land use and transportation. He holds a Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning, while Hagemeier holds a Bachelor’s degree in Resource Conservation and a Master’s degree in Urban Planning. Wilson and Hagemeier say they work together “every day” on their various projects. According to Wilson, the projects they are working on aim to tackle problems stemming from growth, traffic congestion, and safety in the city and county.

The city and county collaborated to apply for the federal BUILD grant and received partial funding. The last time the city applied for the grant, it was denied. This time, a community-wide effort with help from across the state helped secure partial funding for the projects. Hagemeier says that successfully receiving grant funding isn’t just about the quality of the grant application; it is also about demonstrating community support for the grant and receiving support from representatives in Congress. The city and county enlisted help from colleagues in Kalispell, Montana’s congressmen, the Chamber of Commerce, the Missoula Organization of Realtors, and conservation partners such as Five Valleys and the Clark Fork Coalition.

The initial planning phase under the BUILD grant is determining the cost of various projects, so the city and county can decide what projects are plausible under the current amount of funding and what projects will have to wait until more funding is granted.

One of the principle projects under the scope of the BUILD fund is developing ways to improve Reserve Street. Wilson mentions that, thirty or forty years ago, Reserve Street was designed to be a bypass across the Western side of Missoula. Now, it has become a major business hub that sits in the vicinity of a large residential area.

“We all know some of the issues [with Reserve]; that traffic isn’t always great on Reserve Street, and it’s something that people are really concerned about and interested in,” Wilson said. “We’re trying to go through a preliminary planning process to really figure out a couple of questions. One is how people experience Reserve Street: that day-to-day experience, knowing that there are a lot of different users.”

Wilson lists several different types of Reserve street users, including commuters, residents in the area, business owners, shoppers, and travelers passing between Flathead and the Bitterroot.

“We want to just get a better understanding of how those different users experience Reserve Street, and what they think about and what they really want it to be…that will help us inform future projects that look at possible situations and ways to improve the street for those different users.”

Hagemeier added that changes after the 2008 recession influenced the decision to apply for the federal BUILD grant.

“[After the 2008 recession], everything really quieted down and we stopped seeing growth,” Hagemeier stated. “The city of Missoula adopted a new growth plan and growth policy that kind of reevaluated the city’s priorities. The county just did the same thing, but we finished it last summer in June. We reevaluated our priorities and what our values are as a community, and what our issues are; our issues and our values changed since before the recession. We recognized that this area is developing…from before the recession hit, the development patterns aren’t in a way that coincide with our values as a community.”

Part of the focus of the BUILD grant is to take on projects that align with Missoula’s values and work with the local government to achieve that goal.

According to Hagemeier, road construction is determined by resolution, but that doesn’t mean local governments can’t seek increased involvement in the road-building process. “We wanted to be partners in building those roads,” Hagemeier said. “That’s why we went after this grant.”

Another one of the projects in the pipeline under the BUILD grant is the Mullan Area Master Plan, which will “rethink land use, transportation, parks, storm water, and host of other considerations in the area between Mullan and Broadway, west of Reserve Street and east of the Airport.” The plan will consider the community’s needs as the area continues to experience growth.

The City of Missoula will hold a public forum on Wednesday, January 29, at 5:45 PM at the Best Western hotel off of Grant Creek Road. The goal of the public forum is to inform the public on current projects, but also to garner feedback—Wilson says the city is seeking genuine input about community experiences. Registration is requested, so to be part of the forum, register here.

Missoula County will also hold public forums from Monday, March 23 through Friday, March 27. These forums will further discuss project options to be funded through the BUILD grant.

The city and county hope to finish the scoping process by this summer before beginning the design phase. They aim to break ground by 2021, with the goal to finish project construction funded by the BUILD grant by 2025 or 2026.