Inner Belt Loop

A crew from Riverside Contracting works on the foundation for a bridge across Alkali Creek just north of Alkali Creek Road in this 2014 file photo. The Billings City Council is mulling how to pay for the second phase of the project, which would connect the Heights with the West End.

CASEY PAGE, Gazette Staff

With one alternative to the proposed Inner Belt Loop constrained by possible airport expansion and another requiring a 1,000-foot bridge, the Billings City Council may be turning its focus on the original proposed alignment off Zimmerman Trail.

During a work session Monday, Public Works Director Dave Mumford told the council that one possible alignment — a 2.86-mile route to connect the Heights with the West End — may not be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration because it could impede possible runway expansion at the Billings Logan International Airport.

The other airport alignment, at 3.46 miles, includes a bridge and would be almost as expensive as the $13.1 million estimate on the 5.03-mile Zimmerman Trail alignment, the original proposal.

Either of the viable proposals would suck up nearly four years of the city’s $3.75 million in annual arterial fee revenue.

Because of that, council members Monday discussed issuing bonds for the long-discussed Inner Belt Loop and, potentially, adding other projects to the bond issue to benefit even more Billings motorists.

Council members agreed to forward their ideas to City Administrator Tina Volek by the end of the month to further discuss bonding for the Inner Belt Loop and possible other projects during a January 2017 work session.

During the city's most recent bonding issue for streets — in 2003, to improve Alkali Creek Road, South Billings Boulevard and Zimmerman Trail — “the citizens were really responsive when they knew what they were going to get for their money,” Mumford told the council. “This is a great community for that.”

Sanderson Stewart developed the original alignment in order to spur development, council members said.

“It was about growth and development and the utilities that follow that route,” said Denis Pitman, a former councilman who will join the Yellowstone County Commission in January.

Pitman suggested city and county officials “have that conversation to make this an effective road that works. It’ll unify the city and make the Rims the centerpiece. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize. We can do this well.”

“This has been discussed for years. It’s needed, and we need to make it happen, if possible,” Mayor Tom Hanel said. “It’s time we got serious about this."

A grander Grand Avenue

Chris Hertz, a public works engineer and the project manager, took the council through plans to widen and add pedestrian improvements along Grand Avenue from 52nd Street West to 58th Street West. The $4 million project is expected to be completed in time for the opening of Ben Steele Middle School in late summer 2017, Hertz said.

“It’s a fairly easy project to construct, but more complicated to design,” he said.

The goal, he said, is to connect nearby neighborhoods with each other and the neighborhoods to the new school.

The project will feature a two-way left turn lane, left turns on 54th Street West and 56th Street West, sidewalks, a multi-use path on the south side of Grand Avenue, and a pedestrian crossing signal at the school. A traffic signal will be installed at the intersection of 54th Street West and Grand Avenue.

Some council members said they were concerned there’s no plan to light the paths. Public Works officials said they will look into both lighting costs and possibilities.

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City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.