Missoula Current: Missoula wins $850K grant to study Bus Rapid Transit design for Brooks corridor

by Martin Kidston

Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester on Tuesday said the City of Missoula would receive $847,000 in federal funding to study the Brooks Street corridor and a proposal to convert it to a Bus Rapid Transit system, along with other pedestrian improvements.

Daines said the project would transform the busy auto-oriented corridor into a multi-model design fit for a variety of uses. It would also support jobs and economic development, he said.

“I’m glad to see the City of Missoula receive these important resources to make Brooks Street businesses more accessible to Montanans and visitors,” Daines said. “This grant will help support Montana jobs, transit and the local economy.”

Tester helped secure funding through the last Appropriations Bill as a part of the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability & Equity (RAISE) program, and urged the U.S. Department of Transportation to support the project.

“As Missoula continues to grow, affordable and safe transportation has to grow with it for everyone who lives here,” said Tester. “These resources will bring potential transit opportunities to the heart of Missoula and ensure that folks can get to work or school safely and on time. This is great news for Missoula’s families and businesses, and I look forward to seeing the results of the study.”

The city set out in June to pursue the grant to determine the feasibility and design of transforming Brooks Street into a transit-oriented corridor.

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency agreed to make $50,000 available as a match to the grant. Tester and Daines wrote letters of support for the city and its efforts to win the grant. In doing so, they noted that Brooks Street was developed in mid-1900s as a commercial highway “with a sea of surface parking.”

“Today the character of the highway and land uses remains largely unchanged,” Daines stated. “It is unsafe for all users and acts as a dividing barrier through the center of Midtown Missoula. This barrier hampers economic opportunities for brownfield redevelopment and strategic urban planning.”

The city’s consultants at HDR last year determined that while the Brooks Street corridor is capable of moving traffic, it will soon reach capacity. It already faces a number of challenges that impairs traffic, limits economic expansion and hinders non-motorized transportation.

In seeking solutions, transportation officials settled upon a Bus Rapid Transit system that would use a center-running lane. That would enable Mountain Line to launch 15 minute service without disrupting traffic in the heart of Midtown.

“This is fantastic news that will allow us to move the Brooks corridor Bus Rapid Transit design from concept to fundable,” city transportation planner Aaron Wilson said Tuesday. “Given the large investment the infrastructure bill makes in transit, there is a clear message that we can and will be very competitive for those funds. The Brooks corridor is one of our most important pieces of transportation infrastructure, so it’s exciting to see support from the Federal Highway Administration to help make those improvements a reality.”

The Bus Rapid Transit proposal would include several transit stations placed along the corridor, along with work to improve the safety and flow of various intersections. It would make it easier for pedestrians to cross the busy street and offer dedicated bike lanes – something missing in the Midtown district.

A conditions assessment prepared by HDR found that completing the plan could bring new investment to the district, including housing, business expansion and attraction, and new development.

Completing a feasibility study is the next step in the process and would get the project closer to shovel ready. With the infrastructure bill recently passed, funding may be available to complete the work.

“At the end of the day, this is a feasibility study to confirm with a high level of confidence that this is a concept that can work, and we can apply for capital funding,” Annette Marchesseault with MRA said earlier this year. “Brooks is the spine of Midtown, and using the Bus Rapid Transit strategy is a way to then be a catalyst to transit-oriented development in Midtown.”