Transportation in all its modes will fall under the purview of a traffic study proposed for East Broadway, one intended to address congestion before Missoula College opens, and as the city eyes the district for urban renewal.
The new college will serve more than 2,000 students, and the impacts of additional traffic and parking could be critical. Student housing and commercial development also have been rumored for the area.
“If we’re going to add that many people on East Broadway, and the possibility of student housing, we need to get that whole idea of how transportation is going to happen in that area a lot better,” said Chris Behan, assistant director with the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. “We’ve got some real problems down there.”
On Tuesday, MRA approved $10,000 to help fund the $103,000 transportation study. The University of Montana will contribute $25,000 and the Associated Students of UM will give more than $10,000.
Mountain Line will also give $15,000, and the Missoula Parking Commission is being asked to contribute $20,000. The study was awarded to Nelson-Nygaard Consulting Associates and will likely begin next month.
“We’re dealing with parking and demand management in that area, eliminating huge parking lots, or reducing them by a substantial number,” said Behan. “There are better ways to do pedestrian links and how the university links with downtown.”
While the site selected for Missoula College sits closer to the Mountain Campus than an alternative South Campus site, it also sits further away from areas where students live.
Jordan Hess, director of ASUM Transportation, said the study will evaluate both Mountain Line and the university’s buses and how the two systems serve UM’s campuses.
“We’re looking to assess our service, our routes, and ensure we’re working together in the most cost-effective manner,” said Hess. “The two bus services have both been in a state of growth for a number of years. We want to step back and ensure we’re serving UM the best we can.”
The university’s UDash service provided 421,000 rides last fiscal year, according to Hess. Recently, however, Mountain Line expanded one of its routes, putting UDash in competition with the popular city route.
Hess said the study will explore ways the two services can work together and avoid duplication. Mountain Line officials couldn’t be reached Tuesday for comment.
“It could be as minor as adjusting the times or relocating the routes,” Hess said. “We’ve wanted to do this for years, but we’ve never worked through a large planning process on a collaborative basis.”
Behan said the scope of the project looks beyond integrating the two bus services. In general, he said, it aims to better connect UM with the downtown district and East Broadway, where Missoula College construction will begin this fall, serving as the first major project anticipated for the corridor.
As it stands, Behan said, three city intersections pose a danger to bicyclists and pedestrians, including Madison and Broadway, Front Street and Madison, and Broadway and Van Buren.
While the city lacks funding to resolve the issues, Behan said, creating an urban renewal district for East Broadway may help generate funding needed to resolve safety concerns while also attracting future investment.
Mike Reid, vice president of finance and administration at UM, said the study also will explore “multi-modal” facilities, including trails and bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
“It’s going to take a comprehensive look at multi-model elements, Mountain Line and ASUM bus services, and asking if we’re doing it in the most effective way,” said Reid. “They’ll include both the UM main campus and similar issues for Missoula College.”
The comment period for the draft environment review on Missoula College closed earlier this month. While the comments haven’t been publicly released, traffic and parking remain a point of concern.
Plans for the college call for more than 700 parking spaces off East Broadway – a component that’s been criticized in recent months. Options are out there, Reid said, but paying for them is a different matter.
“The city has asked us to consider some alternatives, and they’ve had a couple of proposals on how we could look at alternative methods for parking,” Reid said. “Some of these things are great ideas, and maybe they’re something we can get to, but in the end, we’ve got a finite amount of money to start with.”