Missoula transportation plan to anticipate growth trends, future travel modes

Members of the Missoula City Council this week approved a $335,000 contract to update the city’s Long Range Transportation Plan, one that will prioritize projects with an eye on growth and future travel modes.

The city has contracted Nelson Nygaard to complete the plan, which is required every four years under federal law. The update should be finished later next year and cover a range of emerging issues, including growth and its impact on transportation.

“We want to communicate how we frame affordability, growth, density and all these issues we’re working on as a region, and how transportation fits into those,” said Aaron Wilson, the city’s transportation planning manager. “The idea is to have a tool the public can use that shows how we’re prioritizing projects.”

The new plan will look to build on a number of topics included in the current plan, including trends toward sustainable transportation and a clear statement of community goals. It will also consider current traffic modeling and the role it plays in prioritizing future projects.

“It’s a tool we have to help communicate some of our decisions,” said Wilson. “It’s a really useful tool that allows us to have some land use input, where we’re developing and how that affects the future transportation system.”

The city has long prioritized its transportation needs, but funding significant projects takes time. The Russell Street improvement project has been more than a decade in the making, and other transportation needs are pressing.

But there’s more to transportation than simply moving vehicles, Wilson said.

“It’s something that gets at how well people are moving through Missoula, not just how quickly and efficiently vehicles move from one place to another,” he said. “That’s an important component, but it’s not the only measure we can look at.”

Considering costs and tradeoffs will be key, he added.

“It costs a certain amount of money to expand roadways to accommodate additional vehicular traffic, but there are other ways to move people,” he said. “It’s trying to relate things like our measure of service, how you can move more people, and what it costs to do that in different ways, and making decisions based on that cost effectiveness.”

With transportation representing one of the largest single sources of greenhouse gas emissions, the new plan will also consider climate in valuing future decisions. Future technologies will also play a role.

While emerging technologies and future mobility have been discussed in the past, Wilson said, they’ll play a larger part in the future transportation network.

“We can start to look at what we want those technologies to achieve for Missoula and start planning for that future as opposed to being a passive recipient of letting the technology dictate the future,” he said.

“This is a 30-year plan, so a lot of these technologies will be present and common by the time we hit the last year of the plan.”

The update is expected to take a year to complete.