Citing costs about twice what was expected, the Billings City Council turned down a plan on Tuesday to move an old pedestrian bridge from Joliet to 25th Street.
The vote against the proposal was 7-4, with council members Angela Cimmino, Becky Bird and Jani McCall joining Mayor Tom Hanel to vote in support of the bridge project.
Voting against it were council members Brent Cromley, Mike Yakawich, Rich McFadden, Shaun Brown, Ken Crouch, Al Swanson and Denis Pitman.
Candi Millar, the city’s Planning and Community Development director, said the lowest bid submitted for the bridge project, $1.7 million, was double the engineer’s estimate. The two factors contributing to the cost overrun were moving the bridge from Joliet to Billings and constructing the lift that would have transported pedestrians and bicyclists between Montana Avenue and Minnesota Avenue.
The bridge, which is too narrow for modern horseless carriages, was formerly designed to carry horse-drawn carriages. At one time it crossed Rock Creek but hasn’t been used, Millar said, “in quite a while.”
The 25th Street pedestrian bridge project would have included about $1 million in state-provided Community Transportation Enhancement Program funds. That program pays for transportation-related projects designed to strengthen the state’s transportation system.
Millar said her office is now working to meet a June 1 deadline to apply for approval to spend the CTEP money on other projects. Staff has generated a list of 13 pedestrian or cycling-related projects, she said, including some of the road projects related to renovations at Broadwater and McKinley elementary schools as well as sidewalks and crossings at some of the city’s bike paths. It’s possible, she said, that the new middle school to be opened in the Heights in fall of 2016 will also benefit from CTEP funds.
The 13 projects “will easily exceed the million dollars” available through the program, she said.
Millar said that had the bridge been put in place as planned, it would have connected Minnesota and Montana avenues and given pedestrians and bicyclists a way across 25th Street when trains are passing through. The bridge was seen as an economic development tool for businesses located along both Minnesota and Montana because it would have improved pedestrian access. It would have allowed for connectivity for people with cars parked along the south side of the tracks and would have improved public safety because police officers on bicycles could have easily crossed when trains were passing.
“We just in essence can’t afford it at this time,” Millar said. However, “the reallocation of the (CTEP) funds will be a benefit to the city, for pedestrians and bicyclists throughout town.”