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Russell Street changes coming despite some criticism

By Faith Smith, KECI Reporter, fcronin@keci.com
Published On: Nov 26 2013 10:19:52 PM MST
MISSOULA, Mont. -

Big changes are on the way for one of Missoula's busiest interchanges, the Russell Street corridor, west of downtown.

The first phase of improvements is set for Russell Street and Broadway to Russell Street and Idaho Street.  Engineers are also proposing to widen the Russell Street bridge to two lanes each direction.

NBC Montana learned there’s a lot more on the table and some of it is pretty divisive.

Live in any city long enough and you learn what intersections to avoid -- “The top of my list is Mullan and Reserve, it's just always super busy there and a little bit dangerous,” says Missoula resident Mary Bruen.  

“Russell between Broadway and Third. I imagine I could walk there faster than driving,” says Missoula resident Miles Kinney.  

In Missoula, the intersection of Russell Street and Broadway tops most lists, so it’s little wonder when you consider nearly 25,000 drivers cross the Russell Street Bridge every day.

That's why city and state planners are in the process of redesigning the Russell Street corridor and bridge, to improve traffic flow.

“A lot of times we're concerned about peak volume -- so morning, noon and night,” says Ed Toavs, district administrator with the Montana Department of Transportation.  “Russell is so congested that in the traffic report it showed basically a constant state of congestion and traffic.”  

The Russell Street corridor is in the design phase, but now some Missoula residents say they want to see a roundabout at the corner of Russell and Broadway.

“Roundabouts do work,” says Missoula resident Ethel MacDonald.  “They slow down traffic and people look at other cars rather than a signal.”  

Toavs says an environmental assessment of Russell Street was done 2 years ago, and it clearly states a roundabout at Russell and Broadway simply couldn't hold the traffic volume.

“It's been looked at and it simply will not work,” says Toavs.  “It fails and it will not supersede a signal.”  

Toavs tells NBC Montana not only would a roundabout make congestion worse, but planners with the Montana Department of Transportation are required to follow federal guidelines in order to receive project funding.

“Our direction that we're required to follow through the EIS process is that needs to be a signalized intersection,” he says.   

Toavs tells us designs for the Russell Street corridor are not complete, so planners are still accepting feedback from the public.  He says the goal is to create an intersection drivers won't avoid.

State planners expect to begin construction on the Russell Street bridge in 2016.  They are still working on plans for the intersection at Russell Street and Broadway.

If you would like to share your thoughts on the Russell Street project with planners, click here for the WGM Group, or here for the Montana Department of Transportation