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HomeNewsMT NewsMissoula again looks for answers to Brooks Street malfunction 

Missoula again looks for answers to Brooks Street malfunction 

Navigating the traffic and complicated intersections of Missoula’s Brooks Street in a car is often frustrating, but the alternatives of walking, biking or taking the bus aren’t easy. 

Walking across the four-lane street can be daunting, and a lack of bicycle lanes forces riders into traffic or onto sidewalks, safety concerns the city of Missoula is looking to improve in a new Brooks Street study, along with expanding transit options and alleviating traffic problems. The Transform Brooks – Connect Midtown project is part of an effort to encourage development and improve the standard of living in midtown Missoula, according to the city’s webpage describing the study. 

“We’re looking at safety concerns and transportation concerns as they exist today but also trying to look into the future and build infrastructure that will benefit the community decades into the future,” said Annette Marchesseault, Missoula Redevelopment Agency project manager.

Brooks Street, running diagonally through midtown, is a commercial corridor that includes the Southgate Mall, bordered by residential neighborhoods. Originally a highway, the street design makes it uncomfortable, if not dangerous, for pedestrians and bikers, according to the city. Traffic often backs up during busy morning and evening hours, and vehicles pulling in and out of numerous driveways lead to common rear-end crashes and sideswipes, a 2020 study found. 

Missoula launched the Transform Brooks study — funded by a $847,000 federal grant — earlier this year to develop improvements along the two-mile stretch between Mount Avenue and Reserve Street. The analysis will explore the feasibility of recommendations from 2016 and 2020 studies, including adding a dedicated bus lane with frequent service, Marchesseault said. 

Consultants plan to have a recommended concept by this spring, with final plans released by summer 2024. Since Brooks is part of U.S. Highway 12, the Montana Department of Transportation will be involved in any decisions, and the city will work with the state’s congressional delegation to apply for federal funding once a plan is solidified, Marchesseault said. 

“We’re looking at safety concerns and transportation concerns as they exist today but also trying to look into the future and build infrastructure that will benefit the community decades into the future.”

Annette Marchesseault, Missoula Redevelopment Agency project manager

“Something this big, even if we’re able to successfully find funding in a year, it still would take several years to get final construction documents put together,” she said. “Construction is not happening tomorrow.” 

The long-running project can be traced back 20 years ago to a study of the midtown area that recommended the city make Brooks Street less of a divide through the center of the community, Marchesseault said.    

In 2015, the “Midtown Mojo” coalition formed and commissioned the 2016 Brooks Street Corridor Study, backing a focus on transit-oriented development. The subsequent 2020 study proposed exploring bus rapid transit, a system with a dedicated bus lane, permanent stops and frequent service. The new study will take the ideas from concept to schematic design to get initial project details and an estimated cost, Marchesseault said. 

The Transform Brooks study “syncs up” with goals outlined in the Missoula Midtown Association’s master plan published early this year, Marchesseault said. Two of the plan’s main goals include improving safety and connectivity. 

Brooks Street is the main route between downtown Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley but does not have the capacity to accommodate future traffic as growth continues south, Marchesseault said. 

“The plan looks forward into [the] future, how to intercept some of that traffic and provide other methods of transportation,” she said. 

That includes improving access for bicycles and pedestrians, as well as addressing the long distances between signaled crossings, Marchesseault said. The project team has heard from one of the “substantial employers” in midtown that needs more room for employees to park but won’t rent space across the street because it’s dangerous to cross, she said. 

Developing frequent, reliable public transit in an area can spur residential and commercial development, according to the previous Brooks Street studies and the Midtown Master Plan. While Mountain Line operates bus routes that parallel and intersect with Brooks, it doesn’t run a “Bolt” route with service every 15 minutes down the street. 

The Transform Brooks study will evaluate whether a bus lane in the center of Brooks Street is the most appropriate option, and if so, what would be required to build it. A dedicated lane would allow buses to move faster and narrow crossing distance for pedestrians, according to the 2020 study. It also could help decrease emissions and traffic accidents by encouraging more people to take the bus, the study states. 

Adding a center bus lane would make access to certain areas less convenient for drivers and would require significant funding, right-of-way acquisition and construction, according to the study. 

Acquiring the right-of-way along Brooks to make room for a new lane would be a challenge for the city and is a concern of some area property owners, Marchesseault said. The city has also heard from residents supportive of getting better pedestrian and bicycle amenities, she said. 

“This is a really big transformation on Brooks, the concept we’re looking at, so people are concerned about change,” Marchesseault said. “Big change often has a lot of opportunities, but you also have to work through a lot of challenges.” 

An open house on Nov. 16 was just the beginning of the “really public dialogue,” which will continue for the next six to nine months, Marchesseault said. Project staff want to hear from a broad spectrum of community members, including business and property owners, transit users, pedestrians, bicyclists and neighboring residents, she said. People can learn more about the project and provide input at www.engagemissoula.com/transform-brooks-connect-midtown

“This is a really significant project for the community,” she said. “ We do our best work when we have really good feedback and good information from the community.” 

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The post Missoula again looks for answers to Brooks Street malfunction  appeared first on Montana Free Press.

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