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As costs soar, Missoula leaders wrestle with sidewalk replacement plans

MISSOULA – Missoula is finishing up a new plan to improve the world for pedestrians.

But with sidewalk costs climbing to an astonishing “million-dollars-a-mile”, we may never be able to afford the ideas.

For the past year, staff have been working on the city’s “Pedestrian Facilities Master Plan”, a document built on an assessment of existing sidewalks and “shared use” paths, trying to prioritize how limited funds can be spent in years to come.

But the statistic that got everyone’s attention during a presentation to the Missoula City Council’s Public Works Committee was the sharp spike in sidewalk construction costs.

“Projects are about a million dollars a year, give or take, over the last six or eight years.” said Missoula Transportation Planning Manager Aaron Wilson. “And it’s getting closer to a million dollars a mile for building sidewalks. And keep in mind that if you were looking at every street in the city having sidewalks, that’s about an additional 200, 250 miles of sidewalk. At a rate of about a mile a year we’ve got maybe a 200-year investment.”

Council members were quick to point out sidewalk replacement costs had been fairly consistent between 2012 and 2016, and it was only in the past year the spike had developed, something that Wilson says needs further analysis.

“So over a six-year period that’s a 184 percent increase, divided by six, that’s 31 percent simple interest rate. Not compounded,” said Missoula City Councilwoman Heather Harp. “And when we only have a million dollars from our city budget we obviously get less and less distance per year as time goes by.”

And other stats jump out. The plan finds even in the heart of the city, less than 50 percent of intersections are in compliance with standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

However, there’s some encouraging news. People being hit by cars is down. 13 percent of neighborhoods have “excellent” sidewalks. Nearly 70 percent of sidewalks are rated as “good” or “very good”. And the plan suggests other locations in outlying areas like Orchard Homes and East Missoula would be better served with connecting trails instead of sidewalks.

“And there are a lot of challenges. We have a lack of staff and resources to manage these projects. The street and pavement condition can effect how accessible pedestrian facilities are in terms of making those crossings ADA compliant,” Wilson said. “So it’s not just the curb ramp, it’s the slope of the street or the condition. There’s the assessment process and the burden that that can potentially have on property owners. And that’s been certainly a topic of conversation recently.”

You can click here to review the Missoula Pedestrian Plan.

Dennis Bragg

Dennis Bragg

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