More Back-Peddling on Roundabouts from Ballas, Hendrickson, Nicholson, Wilkins and Haines

by jhwygirl

No surprises here – Jerry Ballas is once again attempting to throw a wrench into the already-approved-back-in-2005 Hill/Beckwith/Higgins traffic circle – so discussion will once again move two steps backwards regarding final authorization for construction of the traffic circle.

Ballas voted against it the first time around (back in 2005), and even attempted, after being in the minority, to call back the approval through a bitter childish attempt at twisting Council rules. A battle he lost. The guy just can not let things go. Note this little tidbit from the August 1, 2005 City Council Agenda:

Review rule and Heidi Kendall’s decision to rule out of order, the referral to “Reconsider roundabout at Higgins/Hill/Beckwith.”—Regular Agenda (Jerry Ballas)

That attempt was after nearly 6 months of public hearings and meetings in 2005 – in city hall and in the neighborhoods…discussions and agreements with property owners – one being a whole church’s congregation – and review of numerous traffic studies regarding safety of traffic circles and impacts on air quality.

So his actions last week at the Public Works committee are yet another example of how he clusters up City Council with bitter personal agenda maneuvers without regard to the safety of Missoula citizens, the cost to Missoula’s taxpayers, and the waste in time of City employees (even more taxpayer $ down the drain.)

For whatever reason, Ballas, along with his cohorts in wrench-throwing Hendrickson, Wilkins, Haines and Nicholson, don’t seem to like traffic circles. Or at least they don’t like them there at Hill/Beckwith/Higgins – because for some reason they were OK with the traffic circle at Miller Creek.

Now, Hill/Beckwith/Higgins is problematic area. Paxson School is nearby, and a child from that school was killed there last year. It is a intersection bringing traffic into and out of the University. And with Grizzly Grocery and its other businesses nearby, a difficult area to manage for both pedestrian and vehicular and business concerns.

Approvals for this project – the proper term is roundabout – were set in motion in June 2005. More than 2 years ago, City Council made the decision to contract with Morrison-Mierle for design of a roundabout. Commitments were made, citizen tax dollars were spent.

Now that work is done, and the city has the final steps of authorizing construction. The city has a few options in how to do it – they can do it by themselves (i.e., no state or federal funding) for about $500,000. They can do it with state and federal funding – in that scenario, the cost for the project will total out at $1,000,000 BUT the city’s share would only be approximately $50,000. I’m not missing a zero there, folks. The already-3/4-of-the-way-down-the-pike project would cost the city $50,000. (Missoulapolis, it seems, is missing part of the story.)

Here’s Councilman Bob Jaffee explaining the situation:

In Public Works we had two roundabouts on the agenda. We approved the Miller Creek roundabout but things got ugly when we considered the Higgins Hill Beckwith roundabout. The price tag has come in over $1,000,000!! About half of this is because it is using federal money. Federally funded projects generally cost twice as much and take five times as long as locally funded projects. This is because the state DOT gets to take nearly 20% for all of their “help” and there are so many hoops to jump through for the feds. The engineering and documentation standards are much higher and the contractors charge more to cover all the extra bases they need to cover. Jerry Ballas was highly critical of the project and spoke strongly against it. Our public works department confirmed that the current project would cost us about $50,000 to complete with the balance picked up by the feds. If we did not go forward we would have to reimburse $180,000 of engineering costs and this intersection would not be considered for improvements again for another 20 years.

So while Missoulapolis’ story points to a traffic light costing $400,000 (costs unknown to the city), Missoula would be waiting, under this 3rd option, 20 years to see any improvement. Hmmm…wonder what the neighborhood thinks of that solution?

If the city Ballas-Hendrickson-Wilkins-Nicholson-Haines group backpeddles and refuses to move forward, the result will be a loss to the city of $180,000 in already spent engineering fees and a 20 year wait for improvements for the traffic light it appears they are so anxious to get.

The Missoula Valley Church has authorized sale of 1,600 square feet of its property to allow for a large enough circle. The two properties on the other side of the street – the Grizzly Grocery complex is actually two separate parcels of land – were consulted, and they too also gave their blessing to a roundabout.

Smart move, IMHO…..if I were a business owner, I’d much prefer a roundabout that keeps traffic moving, allowing for easy in-and-out into my place of business – instead of a stop light at what will be a very very busy intersection. A traffic light that will back traffic up during busy commute hours for one or two lights.

If I have to go through the light, and it takes 2 or 3 lights to get through it, and I have to deal with that backed-up traffic to get either in or out of the local grocery, I’m gonna go somewhere else that allows me easy movement. Coffee will be bought on campus, beer bought on the way home at some other location that is more easily accessible. I wouldn’t want to deal with a light at that intersection.

Then, more importantly, are the safety concerns. We have little children there folks. A roundabout is going to slow traffic down, forcing drivers to look to their left and to their right as they move through it. All studies done on roundabouts show them to be safer than traffic lights. Contact City Engineer Steve King – he’ll give you plenty of references on roundabouts.

And keeping traffic moving is a small improvement in air quality vs. sitting idling away at a red light.

The city hires trained engineers to study these issues. That department met with neighbors to see what they wanted in their neighborhood. Safety combined with neighborhood input brought us to a roundabout, and yet Ballas and his friends seem to think that they know more than a professionally trained and practicing engineer and the neighbors that have to navigate that intersection on a regular basis.

Both Ward 4’s Jerry Ballas and Ward 2’s Don Nicholson face a three-way challenge in Tuesday’s primary election for their City Council seats.


  1. 1 Council Antics Buried in the Financial Folly of this past Monday « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] authorization of construction and the $55,000 in funding for the Hill/Higgins/Beckwith roundabout would have resulted in the city loosing $180,000 in previously spent engineering fees along with a delay of 20 years to obtain state funding to […]




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