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Missoula will have to finesse funding to solve safety issues on Lower Miller Creek

MISSOULA – Everyone is acknowledging there are serious safety hazards on the main road leading up to Missoula’s newest school.

But finding a way to pay for the improvements continues to be a challenge, even as classes start.

With classes opening at the new Jeannette Rankin Elementary School Monday, residents in the Maloney Ranch and Linda Vista subdivisions are getting their first look at what the future holds for traffic in the growing area.

While everyone seems to be coping with the additional cars, the school’s opening draws attention to a safety “choke point” on Lower Miller Creek Road.

For more than a mile, this street hasn’t changed from when it was a county road. West of Linda Vista Boulevard, there are no sidewalks, bike paths and virtually no shoulders. Drivers are already dodging corner potholes and dozens of deer.

While the road is already pretty narrow even in clear conditions it gets much worse when there’s snow and ice, with even less room along the shoulder of the road.”

Now, add in buses and more traffic headed to the school and you have to wonder when the first accident will happen.

Missoula officials say the MCPS traffic study showed the road getting busier with the school.

There were suggestions made at community meetings, but the city says the school’s bond didn’t have money for offsite improvements.

“It basically said that there’s enough other ways to get to the school, other trails and pathways and other sidewalks that school children will be essentially safe to access the school,” Missoula City Engineer Kevin Slovarp said.

The city and MCPS talked of building a temporary path, but there was never agreement on who would pay for it.

Slovarp says the city has had improvement plans for several years, including the idea of having “mini roundabouts” in a couple of spots.  But again, there’s never been money.

“We definitely want to move those improvements up and work more diligently on trying to figure out the funds for the construction, the design and then the construction of the roadway,” Slovarp said.

 Slovarp tells us the city’s Impact Committee recently accepted a recommendation to spend $100,000 for basic design. That still needs city council approval. Even then, the city says there’s no money for the project. That may change if land along the stretch were to be developed.

“We anticipate that vacant land being developed at some point and then the requirement for that development will be to install curbs and gutters and sidewalks on their frontage of that road,” Slovarp said.

It could get worse with the hundreds of homes and apartments the city council already approved for development 10-years ago. And even where development has occurred, some spots don’t have sidewalks on both sides of the street.

In the meantime, the city is asking drivers, and walkers, to be careful.

“Maybe even choose a different route to school. Use one of the trails that is in the area and try to utilize the existing sidewalks that are in place,” Slovarp said.

MCPS is offering parents with students within walking distance of the school a special shuttle to keep kids off the road and says they’ll keep offering that alternative until the road is fixed.

Spokesperson Hatton Littman says the district is “committed to this solution as  we continue to work together on the longer term solution for the community.”

Dennis Bragg

Dennis Bragg

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