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’Round and ’round

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Discussion of the Higgins/Hill/Beckwith roundabout at the July 9 Public Works Committee meeting revealed what many feared was inevitable: The 4-year-old project’s difficulty meeting state planning deadlines and acquiring pivotal right-of-way agreements put Missoula’s first ever two-lane roundabout on hold. The question remains, until when?

City Council hoped that the prolonged project could proceed in late fall, but more likely it will be delayed until either spring or summer 2009.

“Our window for doing it in the fall has already passed,” says Gregg Wood, project development coordinator for the City of Missoula. The Montana Department of Transportation’s bidding schedule, if begun now, wouldn’t put boots on the site until mid-October, pushing construction into potential weather delays. And Wood says the DOT, as the owner of the road, solicitor for bids and administrator of the project, must be on board for things to move forward. Ongoing right-of-way negotiations with Grizzly Grocery also make the prospect of breaking ground this fall unlikely.

Now, Wood says, the main question for City Council is whether to issue bids for an April or June 2009 start date.

But some still believe the fall start date deserves consideration. Ongoing safety concerns—not to mention rapidly rising construction costs—trump any issues dealing with weather delays.

“It’s a fairly dangerous intersection,” says Bob Giordano, executive director of the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation (MIST). “So safety is really big on people’s minds with another cyclist getting killed on Reserve Street two weeks ago…

“Anytime you can pour concrete, it’s good to get it done,” he adds.

If City Council pushes the issue before August 12, the DOT’s drop-dead date for soliciting bids, then the project could still move forward and, if the weather cooperates, be done by Thanksgiving. Ward 3 Councilwoman Stacy Rye, however, wants the project to wait until next summer.

“Do you want to build this when the university and Paxson Elementary are in session?” she asks, noting June, July and August as ideal post-school year targets with good weather and little traffic. Otherwise, Rye worries the 45-day construction period will re-route school buses and parents into the neighborhoods during peak travel times. In addition, Rye shares lingering memories of the hasty West Broadway “road diet,” and doesn’t want history to repeat itself. 

“I want the first roundabout in Missoula to be a success,” she says. “We’re taking a chance [if we try to do it] this fall… and if it doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to, they’ll be there all year.”

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