Council hears presentations on new gateway, transportation plan

2014-07-08T16:15:00Z 2014-07-11T09:43:17Z Council hears presentations on new gateway, transportation planBy MIKE FERGUSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

In addition to shaping language on the proposed nondiscrimination ordinance and learning more about a possible levy for police and fire departments, the Billings City Council heard a pair of reports during Monday’s work session that could also shape the city’s future.

A new gateway

The Billings Industrial Revitalization District hopes to facilitate annexation of about 34 acres from the county into the city as part of the Exposition Gateway Infrastructure Plan. The cost to extend water, sewer and storm water to the 47 parcels owned by 29 landowners is $3.1 million, of which $2 million would be paid by a 25-year revenue bond covered by Tax Increment Financing.

“We have known about this issue from the time I was a kid,” said Kelly McCarthy, development director for the non-profit BIRD. “We look forward to being the generation that resolves this one.”

MetraPark is “the largest entertainment complex in the state, so why is there no hospitality industry there?” McCarthy asked council members. “We have spoken with a number of developers and we’d like to have a significant gateway entrance so people know they are coming into the Magic City.”

One idea, he said, is to construct a pedestrian bridge to connect future development, such as a hotel, to MetraPark.

The trick will be to convince a handful of property owners to accept the voluntary annexation. One such property owner, Charlie Yegen, said that some of the property “has been underutilized for years and years” and called the potential within the East Billings Urban Renewal District “an opportunity for infill most communities don’t have.”

The district envisions this timetable: working with landowners on annexation through September, developing a new Urban Renewal Plan through November, expanding the East Billings TIF district into January 2015, issuing a revenue bond the following month and completing the project by the end of 2015.

“This is a win-win opportunity,” said Councilwoman Angela Cimmino. “The time has come.”

Getting around

Transportation Planner Scott Walker called the 2014 Billings Urban Area Long Range Transportation Plan, at 140 pages, “a really good read with a lot of good history and information about where we are today.”

The plan, which includes input from more than 600 area residents, can be seen at http://billingslrtp.com. It’s a 20-year plan that’s updated every four years.

As part of its consent agenda, the city council is scheduled to vote on approving the plan during its July 14 meeting. The plan’s next stop is the Policy Coordinating Committee, a joint city and county group of officials that works together on transportation issues. That group is scheduled to meet July 15.

One of the key features of the current plan, Walker told the city council, is an interactive Web-based map survey depicting where people indicated intersections and other problem areas for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.

About 4 percent of Billings residents walk or bike to work or school; Walker said he’d like to see that number improve to 5 percent in the coming years.

Asked about Billings’ public transportation alternatives, Walker said “we need a few more people riding the MET. It does its job very well, but it is positioned to do so much more with just a few more riders.”

Councilman Denis Pitman called the transportation plan “vital to the growth of our community.”

Larry Bean of the Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council told the council that he believes the document should reflect “a more robust scenario for what rail traffic will look like,” referring council members to “Heavy Traffic Still Ahead,” a report prepared by the Western Organization of Resource Councils and available at http://heavytrafficahead.org/pdf/Heavy-Traffic-Still-Ahead-web.pdf.

“We need to be having more conversations with the people creating the rail traffic,” Bean told council members.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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