The Garden City has been no stranger to summer construction for the past decade. It seems like every recent summer we've been navigating detours, and putting up with delays and traffic changes.

However, most of those disruptions were related to major infrastructure and public works projects, or commercial development, especially downtown. Over the past few years, the Montana Department of Transportation built an entirely new Russell Street bridge and widened that corridor into an almost unbelievable improvement. MDT also rebuilt both the Madison Street and Beartracks bridges and completely reworked the Van Buren and Orange Street interchanges. Downtown construction resulted in multiple new hotels.

Those projects impacted tens of thousands of people. But now, it's rapid growth that's driving construction issues right into our residential neighborhoods.

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The construction change started on Missoula's West Side

When Missoula County and the City of Missoula were awarded the $13-million BUILD grant in late 2019 it marked a transition from an infrastructure focus to the residential and commercial growth that would follow. Anyone who had to survive the roundabout construction on Mullan, or has attempted to navigate the turmoil on the surrounding roads can attest to the impacts of rapid change. And with the Missoula City Council continuing to approve even more housing units, last month's BUILD ribbon-cutting doesn't mean an end to the dust.

But now even established neighborhoods are feeling the pressure

The city continues to replace mains on important streets like South 5th, a project that won't be done until November. While that's infrastructure-based, the impacts are on longtime residential neighborhoods.

Next week, more disruption comes to the South Hills, where Gharrett Street will close on July 10th, and remain closed all summer long as the city installs a big stormwater collection system and makes street improvements. Local residents will have access, but the arterial, which is a key route for an even wider area, will force drivers to follow a "crazy quilt" pattern of detours through adjacent neighborhoods.

Construction completely closes busy Lower Miller Cr Road- Dennis Bragg photo
Construction completely closes busy Lower Miller Cr Road- Dennis Bragg photo
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This week, residents in the rapidly growing Lower Miller Creek area were forced off once-sleepy Lower Miller Creek Road and onto neighborhood streets. The only advance notice was a pair of readerboards that popped up one day. Friday, city officials clarified and explained that the work is to install 3,200' of new water main to serve the controversial Riverfront Trails subdivision and "future development to the west" including existing mains on Christian Drive. The city and State Department of Environmental Quality have inspectors "watching the installation", which is being contracted by the developers. 

For the next month all the vehicles from Maloney Ranch, including all the trucks and construction traffic tied to new homes being built above, are being filtered through Jack Drive, many traveling well above the posted residential speed limit. 

Is this a sign of Missoula summers to come?

History would suggest the answer is "yes". All one has to do is look down I-90 to Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley, or west to Spokane and Northern Idaho to see what the next ten years are likely to bring to Missoula neighborhoods. Not only are the thousands of new housing units approved by the city council over the past year part of the equation, but much of the associated work like those water mains, are a direct result of the huge amount of cash coming back from the federal Infrastructure Act.

It's a one-two punch with obvious economic impact. But it will be interesting if voters missing Missoula's once peaceful neighborhoods react at the polls.

RELATED: Most of Missoula's growth landing in Mullan, Miller Creek areas

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