Missoula's downtown is due for an update. It's time to convert our funky old one-way streets into more efficient two-way streets.
On this, all signs point to go. The Greater Downtown Missoula Master Plan of 2009 flagged the street conversion project as a priority, and the Downtown Master Plan Implementation Committee identified the conversion of Front and Main streets in particular as the top priority. Now, a feasibility study has confirmed that two-way streets would provide significant benefits in downtown Missoula and beyond.
Indeed, the conversion plan seems to have something for everyone: economic growth, smoother and safer traffic navigation - even more parking.
The only hitch is, of course, the estimated $3.5 million price tag.
Missoulians should consider that up-front cost a wise investment that will reap immediate rewards. The feasibility study found that the street conversion project would have a short-term economic benefit of between 10-13 percent for downtown retailers, because two-way streets will make them both more visible and more accessible.
Construction costs certainly won't be getting any cheaper. If Missoula opts to wait, say, another 10 years, the costs will have only grown exponentially.
And in the meantime, tourists unfamiliar with our downtown will continue to find it dated and difficult to navigate. Worse, Missoula will be passing up an opportunity to improve the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists. Just last week a pedestrian was struck by a pickup truck at the intersection of Main and Pattee streets.
The current street conversion plans include wider bike lanes and more pedestrian-friendly curbs, as well as smoother intersections with Orange Street to the west and Madison Street to the east. HDR Engineering's Mick Johnson made a good point last week when he noted that the new Missoula College that's going to be built on East Broadway will mean more traffic on Front Street.
The project costs will cover three intersection reconfigurations - at Orange Street, Higgins Avenue and Madison Street - as well as a new traffic signal where Front intersects with Madison.
What's more, the streets conversion project would provide Missoula's downtown with 66 additional parking spots.
Now that we have firm grasp on the project's scope and costs, Missoula should jump on this chance to update our downtown streets from one-way to two-way. An opportunity to help move this plan forward arrives Tuesday, when a public hearing kicks off at 6 p.m. at City Hall.