“High priority:” Daines places support behind Mullan BUILD project in Missoula

With traffic rushing by on Flynn Lane, Sen. Steve Daines on Friday placed his support behind Missoula’s application for a $15 million federal grant that would set the stage for future growth through new connector roads and vital infrastructure.

Joined by city and county officials, Daines described the Mullan BUILD project as key to Missoula’s future. If the grant were successful, it could guide future growth and create new housing stock, something that’s needed to combat rising housing costs.

“This is going to be one of my highest priorities in Washington,” said Daines, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which oversees the BUILD grant process. “If you don’t solve these problems, these constraints, you start moving traffic to places you don’t want it to be. It limits the ability to expand housing, and when you have a tight housing market, it means prices go up.”

Missoula County applied for the grant last week. If funded, it would cover roughly 60 percent of the anticipated $30 million project and connect Mary Jane Boulevard and George Elmer Drive to Mullan Road and West Broadway. 

Coupled with the necessary infrastructure, the project would establish a grid network and lead the way for planned growth. Projections for the area call for nearly 3,000 new housing units and 7,000 new jobs over the next 20 years.

“We’re going to grow by 20,000 people in the next 20 years,” said Ryan Salisbury, a principal engineer with WGM Group. “We’re forecasting a need for 9,000 new homes across Missoula. This area is planned for 3,000 homes. If we don’t plan this carefully and get it right, we could really back ourselves into a corner for future growth.” 

The project has been decades in the making, though the push for the project gained momentum two years ago. While the county’s grant application wasn’t successful last year, project backers like their chances this time around.

Daines said he’d put the Mullan project at the top of his to-do list.

“We aren’t going to give up until this project becomes a reality,” he said. “If you look at the overall funding stream being roughly 60 percent federal and 40 percent local, that’s the recipe we need. It means Missoula is heavily invested in this project already. That helps my case when I go back to Washington.”

Engineering studies suggest the creation of new north-south connectors in the Mullan area could help take traffic off Reserve Street and Flynn Lane, the only two connectors in the area.

One estimate suggested it could cut congestion by 95,000 hours a year and reduce vehicle miles traveled by 3.6 million.

“The BUILD project would help us get those roads, sewer and water, which is the best way we’ve found to guide development,” said Salisbury. “We don’t want development leaking out to the outskirts. It costs taxpayers more in road improvements there.”

The project has the support of both local governments, each with an eye on sustainable growth and housing. The project also would create new bike and pedestrian trails, and it would restore portions of Grant Creek.

“This project is huge for developing an infrastructure network and improving connectivity for all modes,” said Missoula City Council member Jordan Hess. “This will go a long way in setting the stage for housing development in a way we want to see in this area.”

Salisbury suggest that nearly $170 million in development is already planned for the area, including $100 million on the project’s south side near Mullan Road and another $70 million near Broadway.

That pace of development would boost the city’s tax base by roughly $2 million a year.

“We’re looking at the next 10 years of where Missoula is going to grow, and where it’s going to grow into,” said Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “This sets us up to plan for how we want that growth to actually be, including things like affordable housing, multi-modal transportation and really good connectivity. We can do it right and set the stage for developers to come in and do the work.”