Tester optimistic about federal funds to link Cregg Lane, Wyoming Avenue

Article from Missoulian – to see full article click HERE

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester got a close look Wednesday at the way a $1.825 million earmark would be a boon for Missoula commuters – and the Old Sawmill District.

On an afternoon tour of the site, the Montana Democrat said he is optimistic – albeit not certain – this year’s bid for the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Act appropriation will succeed. The funds would help link Cregg Lane to Wyoming Avenue.

“It’s infrastructure. It’s jobs. It’s a good project,” Tester said. “That’s why I think it has merit.”

With support from Tester, the money got a green light in July from the Senate Appropriations Committee. Action on the bill isn’t expected until after the November elections.

Missoula Redevelopment Agency director Ellen Buchanan and Kevin Mytty, a property owner, led the site tour after an overview of the urban renewal project in the MRA conference room. The discussion started off on an upbeat note.

Buchanan: “Well, what would you like to accomplish today?”

Tester: “I’d like to feed all the hungry children and stop all wars.”

With piles of concrete and rubble, the 46-acre property almost looks like a war zone. The former industrial site, slated for homes, retail spaces and offices, is still in the midst of a multimillion-dollar cleanup.

Buchanan, though, noted the site’s potential for the future of Missoula. She pitched the district as a critical transportation hub, and one for all kinds of commuters.

A pathway nearing completion will run through the property along the Clark Fork River, for starters. It connects people to other walking and biking routes, like the river trail heading all the way to the University of Montana.

Down the road, the Bitterroot railroad spur offers the opportunity to bring people up from Ravalli County, possibly to the baseball stadium or downtown. That idea got a nod from the senator.

“God, it’d be great to have passenger rail down here,” Tester said.

Then, of course, there was the connection between Cregg Lane and Wyoming Avenue, the reason for the meeting. Buchanan said once Cregg Lane continues through to Wyoming Avenue, and vice versa, the road will serve as an important and much-needed connection for motor traffic between Orange and Russell streets. It will run right past the Old Sawmill District.

“It has a lot of potential for the big picture view of what might happen in Missoula and the region,” Buchanan said.

In all, she said roughly $5 million is needed to complete the Cregg to Wyoming connection and also build Silver Park, part of the project. A boat ramp already is poured and some timber shelters have been built.

At the scene, Mytty said interest is growing in the property even as the environmental scrubbing continues. Tester said Mytty should let him know when there are homes for sale.

Buchanan, who drove the senator to the site in a Mini Cooper with a bumper sticker that read “Fight Sprawl – Shop Main Street,” said the district in the heart of the city is just the place for density.

“Well, it’s sure an important infrastructure project,” Buchanan said.

“No, I can see,” Tester agreed.