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The secret is out: The place we call home is a great place to live, work and play, and each year more people decide to make it their home, too.

With Missoula County projected to grow by 20,000 residents in the next 15 years, it’s important we seize the opportunity to shepherd this growth in a proactive, well-planned manner. Thoughtful planning will make way for homes people can afford, connected to the roads, trails, water, sewer and other infrastructure they need, while maintaining our commitments to safety and protecting the natural environment that enhance our quality of life. Without careful planning, we risk exacerbating the issues of congestion, lack of attainable housing and insufficient connectivity that currently hinder much of the Missoula area.

Well-planned growth does not appear out of thin air though: it takes time and, ultimately, money to proactively map out expanding areas while minimizing unintended impacts. This is why six county staffers, including the commissioners, recently visited Washington, D.C., to advocate for the county’s $23 million federal BUILD grant application.

If funded, the grant will help finance expansion of the road grid and other infrastructure west of Reserve. In the nation’s capital, we — along with representatives from the public and private sectors — championed this project during meetings with Montana’s congressional delegation, as well as with officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which funds the grants and determines which applications are successful.

Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grants are awarded to projects with significant local or regional impact. If Missoula County receives BUILD funds, it will help launch proactive, well-planned growth and encourage development of homes people can afford in an area ripe for development, one of the few left in our geographically constrained valley. It will also improve traffic flow and reduce collisions on an increasingly congested Mullan Road.

Specific impacts of the Missoula BUILD project include:

• Three miles of new roads, reducing congestion and improving access for residents and emergency responders

• Expanded access to nearly 1,500 acres of developable land, including 400 acres of land for light industrial development near the airport

• 3,000 new homes to help accommodate anticipated growth

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• Creation of 7,000 new, permanent jobs

• 3.7 miles of trails for residents and visitors to walk, run and bike on

• Improved safety for the 1,500 K-8 students who attend Hellgate Elementary

• Flood control and restoration along a half-mile stretch of Grant Creek

• $2.6 billion in new taxable value

• Access to the new VA Clinic

This area of Missoula is set to expand, so the question now is how fast will we be able to get the backbone infrastructure in place? With the BUILD grant, this will happen soon. Without it, we will start this year to put in needed roads, trails, traffic controls and other infrastructure, but it will take significantly more time to fund major infrastructure expansion.

This is why, regardless of whether we receive these federal funds, the county and city are about to start a joint master planning process that will engage the public on how to further guide development in this important area. As elected officials, we certainly prefer a proactive process that will allow the community to weigh in on how the area expands, and we imagine our constituents do as well.

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Dave Strohmaier, Josh Slotnick and Juanita Vero are Missoula County's commissioners.

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