Potential route alternatives
Courtesy photo

Although there’s no money identified to pay for a trail to take bicyclists and pedestrians from the Rimrocks down to the valley below, a feasibility study to evaluate four possible routes is moving ahead.

The $60,000 study, being developed by Sanderson Stewart, evaluates options for moving nonmotorized traffic from Highway 3 to Rimrock Road, between Zimmerman Trail and North 27th Street.

Together with local planners, Sanderson Stewart held an informational meeting Wednesday attended by about 40 people. The company expects to complete its study, including its cost estimates, by February 2016.

If it’s constructed, the trail will better connect the Marathon Loop, a partially completed 26-mile system of trails and bike lanes that circles Billings.

The four alternatives being studied, with options 2 and 3 tied together because they originate at the same spot, are:

  • The Stagecoach Trail, which would follow Zimmerman Trail before heading south to Rimrock Road.
  • The Myers Trail, which begins near Sky Ranch Drive and then meanders south and east. This alternative would go through private property and presents some “design challenges,” according to Michael Sanderson, president of Sanderson Stewart.
  • The Morledge Trail, which travels generally east past a city-owned reservoir, eventually joining 17th Street West.
  • The 27th Street Trail, which essentially follows N. 27th Street and presents the least-expensive option.

Among the goals of the study, Sanderson said, is to identify access points and place-making opportunities; consider the unique geology of the Rimrocks while evaluating alternatives; identify and engage all relevant stakeholders, particularly the Rimrock neighborhoods, whose thoughts and concerns have been heard during neighborhood meetings; and enhance recreational and aesthetic opportunities atop the Rims.

The study has included a 3-D scanning tool that uses millions of data points to plan routes that make the existing grades work, said Danielle Scharf, project manager for Sanderson Stewart. One feature, which Scharf demonstrated Wednesday, gives the viewer a perspective of what it will be like to pedal down one of the proposed routes.

Information on the alternatives — and the chance to comment on them — is available on the project website, www.sandersonstewart.com/projects/rimstovalley/project-updates.

Sanderson said his group heard concerns during neighborhood meetings about people parking in their neighborhood to access whatever trail might be constructed. Those concerns, he said, will be included and evaluated as the company completes the feasibility study.

He said the purpose of the study isn’t to identify one preferred choice. Instead, it’s to evaluate pluses and minuses of each option — together with anticipated cost of each of the alternatives.

“Cost and constructability are factors. So is connectivity,” Sanderson said. As an example: For all the growth going on in the Billings West End, the N. 27th Street alternative “doesn’t provide much connectivity,” he said.

He said the new trail “may not be constructed for a long, long time.”

At least one person in attendance, Ed Gulick., a member of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said he’d like to see at least two of the trails developed.

“They’d help make Billings a world-class recreational system,” he said. “The Marathon Loop will be huge, and these are an important part of that.”

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City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.