Approximately $160 million dollars' worth of new development is planned in the Mullan Road area west of Reserve Street over the next five years, according to Ryan Salisbury, a civil engineer with WGM Group in Missoula.
“That’s approximately $2 million in additional property tax revenue every year,” he said.
The new development will include new homes, new roads and new commercial facilities like a new Summit Beverage headquarters.
Salisbury was speaking on Friday with U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, who was in town to discuss an application by the city and the county for a $23.2 million federal BUILD grant. If they are successful in getting the grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, city and county funds would be used to pay for the rest of a $40 million project to build new infrastructure in the area to accommodate the new growth. That would include new roads, pedestrian facilities and utility upgrades, and would create an estimated 349 temporary construction jobs.
“Missoula County is projected to grow by 20,000 people in the next 20 years,” Salisbury told Daines. “We’re forecasting the need for 9,000 new homes, and 3,000 will be in this (Mullan Road) area. If we don’t plan this carefully and get it right, it could really back us into a corner for future growth.”
Missoula County has unique challenges, he said, because rivers, floodplains and surrounding mountains constrain growth here.
“The BUILD Grant is a way to get sewer and water because we don’t want development leaking out,” he explained. “That costs taxpayers in road improvements. You see the money that was spent on Highway 93.”
Salisbury said that studies have found that 25% of Missoula’s workforce commutes here from outside the county every work day.
“So that’s not from Clinton or Lolo, that’s from Ravalli County, Granite County,” he said.
Having recently built a house, Salisbury estimated that nine out of every 10 of the subcontractors commuted from Ravalli County every day for work. By accommodating growth in the Mullan area, the city can have workers living here and using resources like roads and infrastructure in a cost-efficient way. The city and county have been planning for growth in the area for many years, he said, and have reached out to neighbors about traffic concerns. He noted that local planners are trying to alleviate congestion on Reserve and on Flynn Lane, which goes right by Hellgate Elementary.
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“Traffic congestion is always a concern,” he said. “It’s hit a boiling point in my opinion.”
Daines, who is up for reelection in 2020, said his mother worked at the old Missoula Mercantile while she was pregnant with him, and he’s visited Missoula often.
“This highlights the importance of why we need to get the infrastructure in place here,” he said. “The roads, the bike paths, the sidewalks. Because without it, Missoula’s not going to be able to keep effectively growing. This is going to be one of my highest priorities in Washington."
Daines is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
"I serve on the right committee in Washington, Appropriations, that oversees these BUILD grants, and working with the Secretary of Transportation, I’m going to take this back to Washington and make sure we work hard to deliver for Missoula," he said.
Salisbury told Daines that the area doesn’t have enough north/south connectors, so the city and county have verbal agreements with landowners to get right-of-way to build roads if the BUILD Grant is secured.
“The challenge Missoula has is really these north/south connectors and what we have here is something that can solve that problem,” Daines said. “This is something that will be very important for Missoula in terms of solving traffic congestion and solving the affordable housing issue."
The project is a partnership using federal dollars with local dollars coming together, he noted.
"So this is something I’m going to take back to Washington and advocate for Missoula to get the funds we need here to make this a reality.”