A pedestrian bridge over Reserve Street cleared one more hurdle Monday night when the Missoula City Council voted to allow the reimbursement of expenses for the proposed $5 million project.
The council must next decide if it wants to issue bonds to pay for the project. Doing so would extend the life of Urban Renewal District III, which is now beginning to spark redevelopment on the city’s south side, including the former Kmart property and areas around the mall.
“The action you’re taking tonight doesn’t approve issuing the bonds for anything,” said Ellen Buchanan, executive director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. “It simply says if you do issue bonds – which you have to approve – we can reimburse District 3 for those eligible expenses that are incurred between now and the time the debt is issued.”
The council approved the action on a 10-1 vote, with Ward 2 Councilman Adam Hertz casting the dissenting vote. Ward 4 Councilman Patrick Weasel Head approved the action after voting against it in last week’s Administration and Finance Committee meeting.
Supporters said the bridge would improve public safety and bolster the city’s growing reputation as a bicycle and pedestrian friendly community. The project would connect trails in Missoula with Fort Missoula Regional Park and the Missoula to Lolo Trail, which breaks ground this Friday.
“A $5 million pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure is very important to this city,” said Ward 3 Councilman Alex Taft. “It demonstrates that we are moving our growth policy forward, focusing inward and providing alternative means of transportation.”
Three people spoke during the public comment period. Two were in favor of the project and one, saying he was a Libertarian, was against.
Chris Anderson, project manager for the bridge crossing and president of DJ&A – the project’s engineers – said his firm has been open and forthcoming throughout the process, despite the criticism on one area business owner.
He said the firm worked diligently to meet with area business owners. It ultimately redesigned the project to address their concerns, a move that added $300,000 to the project’s costs.
While Monday’s vote doesn’t approve the project, it brings it one step closer to a reality. The Administration and Finance Committee will discuss bonding the project next week. Doing so would include a review of Urban Renewal District III and what the district can still accomplish if reauthorized by the bonding of the bridge.
“We’ll be happy to come back to you in the next couple of weeks or a month, and let you vote this up or down,” said Buchanan. “You have to issue the debt. MRA can’t issue the debt. That’s the point at which you decide you want to do that and you want to extend the life of the district.”
Hertz, who cast the lone dissenting vote, remains opposed to the project, as well as extending the life of District III.
“I will concede the fact that I probably lost the argument regarding the necessity of this bridge,” he said.