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After years of behind-the-scenes planning and informal conversations, the idea of a bypass through the West side of Missoula is finally coming up for public discussion. But, there's a lot that has to happen before that discussion can even start. First, the committee charged with transportation planning in and around Missoula must amend its annual plan to hire a Montana Department of Transportation consultant to conduct workshops and a feasibility study on a bypass near Reserve Street and Fort Missoula. Then, if the study finds the bypass is feasible, the city, county and state can start talking about using federal money for more planning on the project. If the study finds it is not feasible, then the agencies have to figure out how to go forward without federal money.

Discussion Begins on Missoula’s Elusive Western Bypass Ideas

After years of behind-the-scenes planning and informal conversations, the idea of a bypass through the West side of Missoula is finally coming up for public discussion.

But, there’s a lot that has to happen before that discussion can even start. First, the committee charged with transportation planning in and around Missoula must amend its annual plan to hire a Montana Department of Transportation consultant to conduct workshops and a feasibility study on a bypass near Reserve Street and Fort Missoula. Then, if the study finds the bypass is feasible, the city, county and state can start talking about using federal money for more planning on the project. If the study finds it is not feasible, then the agencies have to figure out how to go forward without federal money.

The Transportation Policy Coordinating Committee (also known as the Metropolitan Planning Organization or the decision making body) will vote June 20th on the amendment, which asks to use $5,000 in federal money to cover aerial and land mapping of the project area, ownership information of the property and a traffic analysis for Reserve Street.

“It’s a very inexpensive way to see what’s being talked about with the bypass is even possible,” said Charity Watt Levis, the public information officer for the Montana Department of Transportation.

Conducting an in-depth study of the site would cost around $300,000, Watt Levis said.

The study will determine if the estimated $150 million project can be done using federal funds. Certain requirements and regulations within the National Environmental Protection Act have to be met, otherwise, funds have to come from somewhere else, like private or state funds, Watt Levis said.

If the study finds that the project does not line up for federal funding, the idea will fall on the shoulders and the pocketbook of the city, county and state. Then, the question changes to how to construct such an expensive project without using federal funds, Watt Levis said.

The Missoula Office of Planning and Grants is accepting public comment on this issue until the amendment goes to a vote on June 20. Phone calls and E-mails can be directed to Amber Blake, Transportation Information Specialist of Missoula County, at ablake@co.missoula.mt.us or (406) 258-4989.

The office is also holding an open house next Tuesday, June 13th at St. Patrick Hospital in conference center #3 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. to take public comment and talk about how the public can participate in transportation decisions in general.

“We’re trying to get the basics out there so transportation isn’t so intimidating,” Blake said.

If people have strong opinions about this issue they should talk to their local officials and let them know how the community is weighing in on the matter, Watt Levis said.

“Now’s the time to let the city know before large amounts of money are invested in it,” she said.

The proposal of a bypass near Reserve Street, especially one with a bike path, is something that has been discussed for quite some time now, said Helen Orendain, a private attorney in Missoula.

However, the threat the potential bypass poses to some of Missoula’s beloved characteristics makes the reality of the bypass and the discussion of the bypass two very different things.

“No one, to be honest with you, wants to have this in their backyard,” Orendain said.

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