Russell Street 

Clock’s ticking on redesign

Missoula’s non-motorized transportation advocates called upon like-minded locals to speak up about the upcoming Russell Street overhaul before a public comment period closes this month. In particular, they’re concerned that bike lanes and sidewalk infrastructure will take a backseat to vehicle amenities.

“We’re pushing for additional strength in numbers,” says Missoula Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board Chair Bob Wachtel.

The Montana Department of Transportation, with help from city and federal officials, is finalizing design plans for the first phase of the Russell Street overhaul. The project is expected to cost $40 million and, once completed, will transform Third Street from Russell to Reserve, along with 1.5 miles of Russell from Broadway to Mount.

Just what that transformation will look like is under debate. Among the advocates’ primary concerns is MDT’s plan to create 12-foot-wide vehicle lanes on Russell. Ethel MacDonald, board president of the Bike Walk Alliance for Missoula, echoes Wachtel when saying that, because slimmer thoroughfares calm traffic and would make more room for cyclists, trimming vehicle lanes to 10 or 11 feet would go a long way toward making Russell Street safer. “Our big concerns are in the lane width,” MacDonald says.

The advocates are similarly troubled by MDT’s proposal for the Broadway and Russell intersection. The new design would accommodate 24-26 bike and car lanes and, MacDonald says, would be “very dangerous.”

In response, MDT’s Western Montana District Administrator Ed Toavs says the new Russell and Broadway intersection wouldn’t accommodate many more lanes than it does now, but it would move traffic more quickly. “It sounds quite impressive, and like a big octopus,” he says, “but really, it’s a handful of lanes beyond what’s out there.”

Regarding lane width, Toavs says that while there could be some wiggle room, such as the potential to trim lanes to 11 feet, it would be tough to squeeze large vehicles like buses into anything smaller. “You end up with some problems that could be a little bit unsafe.”

Toavs says that while he appreciates the advocates’ perspectives, it’s important to note that not everyone, such as those who drive large vehicles, shares them. But that’s the beauty of accepting public comment, he says. MDT will have the opportunity to dig into feedback on the first phase of the project, which runs from Broadway to Idaho Street, after the comment period closes Dec 21. The Missoula City Council will also hold a Dec. 16 public meeting to solicit input. Additional information on the plan can be found at mdt.mt.gov/pubinvolve/russell.

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