Traffic in East Missoula where Highway 200 borders a convenience store and casino and a large parking lot leading to side streets can become a free-for-all, with no curbs, sidewalks or controlled access points to direct vehicles or pedestrians. The public has an opportunity this month to share visions of what the highway corridor could look like through a community survey and public meetings on April 23.

EAST MISSOULA – Residents, businesses and frequent travelers through this town two miles out of Missoula have a unique opportunity in the next few weeks to share their visions of what the Highway 200 corridor could look like.

An 11-question community survey that’s part of a Sonoran Institute-funded study is being distributed around town and online with a deadline of April 20.

That’ll be followed on April 23, a Thursday, by a daylong design workshop and evening public meeting at the old Mount Jumbo School.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help shape the future of this thoroughfare that bisects our community,” Dick Ainsworth, chairman of the East Missoula Community Council, wrote in a letter urging residents to “take the time to be involved.”

At the community council’s request last year, Missoula County applied for and received a highly competitive New Mobility West grant through the Sonoran Institute.

It provides no construction funds, but free technical planning assistance to examine land uses, roadway designs and market-feasible development opportunities along Highway 200.

It’s a stretch of road that has long been on the front burner for locals, Ainsworth said.

Among other things, the survey asks respondents to share experiences both positive and negative that they’ve had on Highway 200 from Easy Street on the west to the junction with Speedway Avenue near the Sha-Ron river access on the east.

Narrow shoulders, unlighted areas and awkward accesses to side streets and businesses have long characterized the section of road.

A troublesome railroad overpass west of town presents special pedestrian and biking challenges as construction continues on the University of Montana’s Missoula College and talk of other development between Missoula and East Missoula amps up.

Lewis YellowRobe, planner for Missoula County’s Community and Planning Services, said the grant pays for a consultant, Progressive Urban Management Associates (PUMA) of Denver. YellowRobe is working in coordination with PUMA, the city, the community council and project manager John Lavey of New Mobility West.

The Montana Department of Transportation also will be involved, which Ainsworth said he’s glad to see.

Any road construction projects that eventually come out of the study will be managed by and funded through MDT.

“They’re showing more interest in it than they have in the past,” Ainsworth said. “We’ve been bugging them forever, but like all government agencies it’s a case of not having the money for it.”

Respondents to the survey are asked to describe the current look and feel of the Highway 200 corridor and what look and feel they’d like to see in the future. They’re also asked what features of the corridor they hope won’t change as development pressure increases, as well as what they hope will change.

Ainsworth said planners will be in town for “a pretty packed” three days April 22-25. They’ll conduct field tours and interview local businesses and residents on the first day.

The main public involvement will be on day two, with a design workshop from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and a public meeting from 6:30-8 p.m. The third day will be spent following up on leads and assessing the information gathered. A report will follow from New Mobility West, probably in May.

Sometime this spring, the Montana Department of Transportation plans to conduct a separate corridor safety audit of the East Missoula stretch of Highway 200 and, upon the city’s request, on into Missoula.

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