Mary Avenue

Southgate Mall is in the midst of a massive redevelopment project that will ultimately lead to a new roadway, Mary Avenue, between Reserve and Brooks.

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s board of commissioners took action on a number of large projects on Thursday, including approving the conceptual plan for the first phase of a new connector street between Reserve and Brooks through Southgate Mall property.

Mary Avenue is currently a residential street that dead-ends at the Bitterroot Spur railroad tracks, but it will eventually cross the tracks and connect with a new roadway being built by the mall. The city is hoping to get the project bid in March and start construction next year, while the mall’s portion east of the tracks is already underway.

A consulting team, led by DJ&A Engineers, has completed a conceptual plan of how the new street will look. The consultants took extensive public input and feel that their plan has “broad community support” at this point.

Mary Avenue west of the tracks will most likely get a new roundabout at the intersection with Clark Street, but the right-of-way still has to be acquired from the four property owners at that intersection. The engineers have presented city officials with a design that calls for lots of trees and other measures to slow down traffic, including large bulb-outs at corners. The MRA believes the new route will improve connectivity in the area and give kids a safer walking route to school. 

The board voted to direct MRA staff to enter into a contract with DJ&A to complete the design development, final design, construction documents and bidding services for the final two phases of the project at a cost not to exceed $199,565.

Ellen Buchanan, the executive director of the MRA, said that the city will save “tens of thousands” of dollars by getting the project out to bid in March of 2017 rather than April or May. That’s because construction costs have been increasing by 5 percent or more each year, and anything later than March would mean the project would be delayed and prices would rise.

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Conceptual plan for Mary Ave

“Time is of the essence,” she said. “We are courting disaster if we don’t bid in March.”

She said it would be better for the city to start construction as the mall is doing its work so that there wouldn’t be an extended period of construction going on in that location.

“It’s better to tear it up once as opposed to multiple years,” she said.

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The board also approved an amended proposed land use map along with the North Reserve Scott Street Urban Renewal District Master Plan, which may guide the city’s decisions in the area over the next three decades. The board will recommend the plan to the city council, which will forward it to the planning board.

The proposed land use map shows things like a public greenway on the south side of Interstate 90 along with a bike and pedestrian path connecting Grant Creek to Scott Street. It also shows possible ways for Russell Street to connect with I-90, including a possible new interchange where the road to the landfill is now. All these things are hypothetical, and would require the consent of private property owners like Roseburg Forest Products, which has so far shown no willingness to give up land.

“What we’re looking at here is a 20- to 30-year plan, and things change over that time,” said MRA assistant director Chris Behan. “How all of this gets funded…again, we’re looking at a couple of decades.”

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The board also approved funding for expenses necessary for conducting due diligence on a proposed $2 million purchase of Montana Rail Link property for a new park and bike path segment. The city council and the parks board have both approved a recommendation from the MRA to authorize the Mayor to sign an agreement to buy the 12-acre parcel of land, which is between North and South Avenues along Johnson Street.

The property runs along the Bitterroot Spur railroad tracks, and MRL has agreed to sell the property. The city believes it can build a new park in an under served neighborhood and connect the final piece of the puzzle to give pedestrians and bikers unblocked access to more than 50 miles of paved path stretching from East Missoula to Hamilton.

The first two phases of environmental assessments will be paid for through an EPA grant to the city, but the city needs to survey all the buildings and utilities and identify any easements and encumbrances.

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