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Politics Pop: Elections Office sees record ballot return, South Fifth and Sixth streets' makeover complete
Politics Pop

Politics Pop: Elections Office sees record ballot return, South Fifth and Sixth streets' makeover complete

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Old road markings were removed from South Fifth and Sixth streets as part of a street preservation project that the Montana Department of Transportation wrapped up this week. 

Drivers and cyclists can expect an easier ride down South Fifth and Sixth with the newly resurfaced and re-lined portions of the streets. The $1.3 million project will help extend the life of the roads by adding a new layer of pavement and fixing cracks and holes in the road.

They will also hopefully eliminate confusion for drivers by doing away with old paint striping leftover from a lane reconfiguration project last year.

In the fall of 2019, the City of Missoula and MDT widened lanes on those streets, reduced driving lanes from two to one, and added buffered bike lanes and turn lanes. But remnants of the previous street markings were still visible alongside the new markings, leaving many drivers confused, until completion of MDT's most recent project this week.

New adjustments to the striping include a wider parking lane on the south side of Fifth Street and striping of only one buffer on the bike lanes. "By doing so, driving lanes are moved farther from sidewalks, residents have additional space for entering and exiting vehicles parked on the street and cyclists have a wide bike lane for travel," a press release from Big Sky Public Relations said.

MDT is also reminding drivers to share the road with cyclists on Higgins Avenue Bridge with a project to reconstruct the bridge underway. MDT added signs near the bridge this week to alerting drivers that they are required to share the full road with cyclists, following concerns about the safety of cyclists and pedestrians who need to use the bridge. 

To make room for two lanes of north- and south-bound vehicle traffic while the west side of the bridge is blocked off for construction, MDT had to eliminate bike lanes on the bridge. They instructed cyclists and cars to share the road but not all drivers understand that, and some have honked at, tailed or flipped off cyclists who "have every right to be in the road," according to John Schmidt, Missoula district construction engineer for MDT.

Safety concerns led Britt Arnesen, a member of the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, to bike back and forth on the bridge this week in "an act of civil disobedience" and effort to spur change. Arnesen met with city and MDT staff late this week to share her concerns, and the two entities are now working on coming up with measures to make sure cyclists and pedestrians are safe. On Friday, a new sign reminding drivers of the 25 mile-per-hour speed limit was also visible.

The Missoula County Elections Office received one ballot every 13 seconds on Tuesday, when voters returned over 4,000 ballots through the county's drive-thru drop-off location, Missoula County Elections Administrator Bradley Seaman said in a press conference. The county is on track for record-setting numbers for the ballot return rate for the Nov. 3 election, he said.

As of Thursday afternoon, Seaman said the county had 88,995 registered voters, and had sent over 76,000 ballots to voters. However, the number of active ballots for voters in Missoula County changes on a daily basis as mailed ballots are voided for voters who opt to vote in-person, or for voters who have moved, he said. As of Thursday, the county had a 24% voter turnout based on the ballots it had received from the 76,000 ballots it sent out.

"Right now, at 24% of our ballots received, we're on track towards a record setting turnout for this election," Seaman said during the press conference. "And that's exactly what we want to see: voters voting, having the most turnout we've had, and done in the safest and healthiest way for voters."

To reduce exposure to COVID-19, Missoula County opted for an all-mail election this year, though services are still available in person at the office. Ballots were mailed to county residents who are active registered voters, and they are due back by 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3. Postmarks are not sufficient so voters should mail their ballots early, Seaman said. Voters can drop ballots off at the Elections Center during business hours up until the election, or at a number of drop-off locations throughout the community that will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m on Election Day.

Residents can verify they are registered to vote at their current address at www.myvoterpagemt.com. Residents who need to register to vote or update their registration need to fill out the voter registration form, which can be found at http://missoula.co/registertovote.

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