The West Broadway “road diet” may not be officially doomed yet, but its days sure look to be numbered. Mayor John Engen’s Jan. 24 announcement that he was ready to abandon the project, which slimmed the corridor from four to three lanes in an attempt to improve pedestrian safety, wasn’t the last word, but it certainly shifted the city’s momentum. Ultimately, it will be up to City Council to decide whether to stay the course or pursue a new configuration, and Engen has asked Public Works to offer a range of alternatives for Council to consider in coming weeks. The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) will also reconsider—for the fourth time now—installing a stoplight in the area. A separate citizen-driven planning process will take the form of a March charrette to develop a long-term vision for the corridor. In the meantime, Broadway will keep its three-lane look through winter.
Aside from Broadway’s layout being up in the air, however, there are several other issues city and state officials need to resolve.
City Council pledged to try the three-lane model for a year once it was completed or else repay the money the state funneled to the project. At this juncture, says MDT’s Dwane Kailey, at least $200,000 has been spent, and the answer to whether the state will hold Missoula to its promise is “yes, no and maybe.” The project, however, was only temporarily and incompletely set up last fall and can’t be finished until summer.
That’s one reason Council President Ed Childers favors at least completing the project and giving it a fair chance to accomplish its goal, though he’s not sure there’s enough Council support for that.
“One of the things we hear people say is [that] Council does things halfway and then stops,” he says. “I’d like to not do that, particularly in this instance.”
But Engen says it’s difficult to continue supporting the project when the very constituents who inspired the change—disabled citizens living nearby—tell the city it doesn’t work.
“Ultimately, it remains the Council’s choice, but I have a responsibility to demonstrate some leadership,” Engen says. “In my mind, I can’t find a solid constituency to support this.”