Mary Avenue’s a dead-end no more, for better or worse.
The street extension finished in mid-December connects Mary Avenue from Reserve Street to the Southgate Mall across the rarely-used Bitterroot Branch railroad tracks.
Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s Annette Marchesseault said Mary Avenue has been in city plans for nearly two decades as an east-west connector in an area of town where almost all the major roads ran north-south.
“It’s a really important east-west connection … because of the railroad and because of the geometry of the streets,” she said. “If you give more options, traffic gets much more dispersed.”
The Missoula City Council and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency last year approved the issuance and sale of $1.6 million worth of Tax Increment Urban Renewal Revenue Bonds to finance the design and construction of Mary Avenue West, which is the portion to the west of the Bitterroot Spur railroad tracks.
Early plans estimated about 4,000 new cars a day would use the Mary Avenue connection, which left neighbors worried about the safety and increased noise and use of their former dead-end block.
Marchesseault said during several community meetings, and from going door-to-door, they came up with the neighborhood's major concerns — quiet, safety, beauty and parking — and worked them into the final plan, although she admitted “not everybody’s design concept was reflected.”
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But, through the process, Marchesseault thinks their design, which includes a roundabout and boulevard trees to slow traffic, as well as parking on one side of the street, is for the best.
“We went through a pretty involved public process,” Marchesseault said. “It’s provided an opportunity for people in that neighborhood to walk safely. I think, in a year, when the vegetation starts to grow in, it’s going to be a beautiful street.”
Dennis Gordon, who lives near Mary Avenue, says he doesn’t think the street dimensions and parking space sizes are large enough to accommodate the expected influx of traffic.
“The way it’s laid out now, it’s actually a danger to the residents who live there and to the people driving on it,” Gordon said. “It’s like they put a size 12 foot into a size 9 shoe.”
He’s disappointed by what he sees as the city bowing to developers rather than listening to the neighbors.
Peter Walker-Keleher, with DJ&A Engineers, Planners and Surveyors acknowledged at an October 2016 meeting that “anytime you get lots of different people, you are never going to make them all happy.”
He continued, “The project itself impacts the neighborhood. It’s going from a quiet dead-end street to a street with almost 4,000 cars daily. That is a big difference. But … by and large I feel like we’ve balanced property owners’ needs with the needs of the broader community.”