Change is coming to the neighborhood at the foot of the Madison Street Bridge, but what it will look like is still up for discussion, debate and community input.
On Wednesday, the University of Montana will host a public forum to discuss a $1.8 million project to realign Fifth Street, Sixth Street and Arthur Avenue near the Adams Center.
Anyone interested in the future look and traffic flow of the two-block area of homes is encouraged to attend the forum, which is at 7 p.m. in the University Center Theater, said UM architect Jameel Chaudhry.
People who are unable to attend the evening meeting may view some of the preliminary plans and concepts that have been drawn up by the project's engineers at 3 p.m. at informational display outside the theater.
The project is a collaboration between the Montana Department of Transportation, the city of Missoula and UM, said Joe Oliphant, a project coordinator for the city of Missoula.
At issue is how to improve the circulation of traffic for Highway 12, increase pedestrian safety for the area, which is one of Missoula's most dangerous and congested, and create a formal gateway to the university.
When the project first surfaced in 1999, UM agreed to plow over four of its rentals along Arthur Avenue if engineers needed more space for their designs, Chaudhry said.
Currently, UM owns 31 of the 38 houses in the area that will be affected, and has plans to purchase the remaining privately held houses as they become available. According to the university's master plan, once the homes are purchased and money is secured for new projects, all of the area's mostly 1950s-era homes will be razed and replaced with university-related buildings.
At this point, however, the renters and the remaining homeowners in the area needn't worry, Chaudhry said.
"None of the homes will be touched," he said. "We don't want homeowners getting nervous about something down the road because we don't have the money for any future projects and there are no other plans.
"Right now we are dealing with just the state and city's need to improve Highway 12."
Construction will likely begin in 2005, but now is the most critical time for the public to voice concerns and offer suggestions, Oliphant said.
Jeff Jones, a consultant on the project, said he hopes people will talk about how to make the initial plans more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly so those ideas can be incorporated into the conceptual plan stages.
"This is the golden opportunity," Oliphant said, "and I encourage people to motivate themselves to show up at the meeting."
For more information about the forum, call 243-5576.
Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at email@example.com