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A roundabout that was going to get built this summer at a dicey intersection on Higgins Avenue looks delayed until 2009, but engineers haven't yet decided to hold off this season for sure.

Public Works project development coordinator Gregg Wood said officials still have to buy some land to build the roundabout at Higgins-Hill-Beckwith.

They've picked up about two-thirds of the right-of-way they need, but stalled getting the final third, he said.

"Somebody wants to negotiate a little bit more than we originally anticipated," Wood said.

And because the Montana Department of Transportation has rigid bidding and letting schedules, the dealing pushes construction into the fall, he said.

And that's bad timing. Schools are in session and students from Paxson Elementary and the University of Montana are out and about. Plus, building in the fall means people might be driving the roundabout for the first time in snow.

Wood said everyone wants the project to succeed, and they'd rather have people taking a turn when the roads are dry.

Ward 3 Councilman Bob Jaffe announced the likely delay in his regular Wednesday e-mail report from Missoula City Council committee meetings.

"I can't tell you how frustrating this is," Jaffe wrote in part. "At this point it is likely that construction cannot start before October and will take up to two months to complete. There is great concern about the potential for opening up our first high traffic round-a-bout for the first time in foul weather."

He also encouraged people to contact the Public Works Department with their opinions.

The most recent bump in the road for the roundabout was about contract language. While the contract isn't squeaky clean, Wood said it won't cause delays.

"They're within one sentence of having it worked out," he said.

Wood also said he doesn't expect any wait to up the cost of the project. That's because the bidding will happen this summer even if the work doesn't, he said.

Jaffe said every delay costs money, but he isn't too worried about a growing burden on city coffers. The Montana Department of Transportation is picking up most of the tab, he said.

"There's a very small piece of local contribution to the financing of this (project)," Jaffe said.

But he also said the contract negotiation with MDT delayed the acquisition of right-of-way, which in turn pushed the construction schedule back.

Wood said MDT has offered some flexibility, but a wait may be better than a failed intersection.

"We're not happy that we're pushed up against this, but we want to make sure we do it right," Wood said.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at 523-5262 or at keila.szpaller@missoulian.com

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