Although the revamp of Russell Street has dragged on for the better part of a decade, the Missoula City Council voted Jan. 26 to extend the project another eight months at a cost of $186,156. The decision didn’t sit well with a frustrated public eager to see the project move forward, but council members were quick to defend it.
The council’s vote authorizes a subcontractor, Kittelson & Associates, Inc., out of Boise, Idaho, to conduct a peer review of the study completed during the project’s initial environmental impact statement. Specifically, they want to reevaluate the traffic flow through Russell Street. HKM Engineering, from Billings, is currently stewarding the entire Russell Street project, which is costing approximately $40 million.
“This peer review gives it an equitable review by people who have no stake in validating or upending the contents of the [draft environmental impact statement],” wrote Ward 1’s Jason Wiener in an e-mail to Bob Jaffe’s listserv group. “I’ll be riding herd on the review at every step to see that people who do have that stake don’t capture the peer review, bury contrary findings, or constrain the questions so only their answers can come out.”
Wiener, who motioned for the amendment to the project, also noted that if just one turn lane is eliminated from the project, the study has paid for itself in saved construction costs.
The vote drew nays from council members Renee Mitchell and John Hendrickson, both of whom regularly preach fiscal responsibility. However, two of their conservative counterparts, Jon Wilkins and Dick Haines, sided with Wiener. Wilkins said he wanted all the public comments to be taken into consideration and Haines hoped to garner a favor.
“Why am I in favor of having the peer review? I supported that because I want a peer review on Miller Creek,” he said. “I really have no strong feelings either way about Russell.