“We’re on hold,” says City Engineer Steve King. “I think the project is dead.”
If the city chooses to backpedal on the road diet, the Montana Department of Transportation could request the city pay back $100,000 already spent of the $300,000 available for the project. If the city continues with the project, MDT will monitor traffic and, if the redesign proves ineffective, re-stripe the road. This fallback contingency doesn’t seem to sway Council members opposed to the diet.
Don Nicholson and Clayton Floyd initiated the reversal. Even if the city has to pay back one-third of the money, Nicholson believes it’s worth redirecting the rest of the money—$200,000. He is drafting a letter to the MDT—not yet available for review—that explores the least-costly method of extricating the city from the project. He isn’t necessarily against the road diet, he says, but would prefer to see the money directed toward Reserve St. and Mullan Rd., where he believes the funds could be better spent.
The Missoula Downtown Association has led the charge against the diet. Sage Grendahl, assistant director, believes that although the logic behind the diet appears sound, public perception is that a three-lane road will increase traffic. And people will act on their perceptions, and downtown businesses will suffer, she says.
At the meeting, Bruce Bender of Public Works pointed out that the Broadway Diet has been part of the Capital Improvement Program for years. According to King, 75 percent of the engineering design was complete as of last week.
King has spent three years working on the project, but he serves at the pleasure of the Council.
“Unless there’s some groundswell of public petitioning,” says King, “I think this project will be history.”