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South Reserve Street

Rendering of proposed South Reserve Street trail crossing.

The Missoula City Council on Monday night approved a bond resolution to fund construction of a pedestrian overpass spanning South Reserve Street, and to build missing sidewalks in a section of south-central Missoula.

Bonds for the sidewalk project won’t be sold if the pedestrian crossing is placed under contract before Dec. 11. If the bridge is approved, the sidewalks would be funded via a different mechanism. The city must still obtain the bridge permit from the Montana Department of Transportation.

The bonds were authorized at $5 million for the crossing and $1.4 million for the sidewalks. The crossing drew widespread support, with supporters calling it a social justice issue.

“The part of Missoula in Ward 5 and Ward 6, we don’t have much parkland, and it’s hard to get on foot or bike across Reserve,” said Ward 6 council member Marilyn Marler. “This is an important connection.”

The pedestrian crossing has been on the radar for nearly a year. If approved by MDT, the bridge would span South Reserve Street and tie into a new regional park at Fort Missoula and the Missoula to Lolo Trail.

The project passed the City Council on a 9-1 vote, and drew support from council members representing wards from across the city, including those who live in districts with easy access to parkland and open space.

“I don’t live near there, and don’t go over there very often, but I know in Ward 3 we have three crossings,” said Ward 3 council member Emily Bentley. “I’m sensitive to the people and the ward representatives who live in that area and tell me it’s a social justice issue.”

Construction of the M2L Trail began earlier this year, and work has begun on the new regional park. The trail will cross South Reserve, connecting with the Bitterroot Branch Trail that runs toward downtown Missoula.

“I think this is a total waste of money,” said Kandi Matthew-Jenkins. “I can’t believe you’re going to build a bridge across Reserve. People have been crossing streets for a long time.”

Ward 2 council member Adam Hertz also opposed the project, though he did say that traffic posed a danger to those looking to cross South Reserve on bike or foot.

While the Missoula Police Department warned against an underground crossing, Hertz said it was a better and less-costly concept.

“I don’t think an at-grade crossing is the appropriate alternative,” Hertz said. “But I don’t think a $5 million bridge is the appropriate alternative either.”

Supporters billed the crossing as a vote for safety, for tourists, for hotels and recreation. Those familiar with the multi-modal system in Boulder, Colorado, called the crossing and trail project a step in the right direction.

“If we look at the vision of Missoula and where we’d like it to go, both economically and as a community, this bike-pedestrian bridge is vital to the future of our community,” said Missoula resident Arlen Hall. “It’s a very small investment to make for the long-term benefit of our community.”

Bonding for the sidewalk project passed 10-0.

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