The Aronson Bypass Trail at Swords Park may be short, but for bicyclists, babies in strollers and pedestrians alike, it’ll be sweet.
The quarter-mile or so trail, under construction since Aug. 15, is scheduled for completion by Sept. 30, said Mark Jarvis, a planner for the Billings Parks and Recreation Department.
“It’ll be wonderful,” said Kristi Drake, executive director of BikeNet, an organization that supports urban trails in and around Billings and contributed toward the project’s $113,670 price tag. “Traditionally you’d have to go up above and onto the Aronson Bridge and cross your fingers that no one was driving crazy.”
Jarvis said the new trail, being constructed by Rehbein Enterprises of Polson, is designed to connect larger sections of trails. The new portion begins at the west end of Aronson Avenue, dips underneath the bridge and proceeds through part of Swords Park before joining a sidewalk off Airport Road.
When it’s done, “you can effectively go from the roundabout in front of the airport all the way down to the Yellowstone River,” at Mystic Park near the city’s water treatment plant — all by using trails and away from motor vehicles.
“It’s a small project, but it is crucial,” he added. “It will connect the Swords Park Trail System, the Alkali Creek Trail System and the Aronson Avenue Trail System, and tie them into the Main Street tunnel, which ties into the existing Kiwanis Trail System.”
Once the quarter-mile length is in place, a person could hop on a bike on Mary Street in the Heights and ride on paved trails south all the way to the water treatment plant, about eight miles away.
Jarvis said he’s heard from bicycle enthusiasts they’re excited about having access to the many kinds of terrain and vistas available along the trails near Swords Park.
“It’s going to connect a lot of trails and allow people to ride relatively long distances over a great variety of terrain,” Jarvis said. “There are a lot of really neat features to jog toward or view as you go by.”
Following a visit Thursday to inspect construction progress, Jarvis said he sees “a lot of moms with strollers and a variety of joggers and bikers using these trails. They like it because they don’t have to watch out for that auto as they run alongside the road.”
Construction is on or even slightly ahead of schedule, Jarvis said, despite a stop work order issued during last week’s rain. Construction work resumed Monday, he said.
“They are getting in there and getting it done,” he said.
Lora Mattox, a city transportation planner, called the short trail “the missing piece.”
That missing piece, she said, is being funded through local contributions, including BikeNet’s and a grant from the governor’s office, but chiefly through the now-defunct Community Transportation Enhancement Program. That Montana program paid for transportation-related programs that strengthened the state’s multimodal transportation system — which, of course, includes bicycles, wheelchairs, strollers and shoe leather.
“We got a great bid from the contractor,” Mattox said. “It’ll make a great connection, getting people from hard surface to hard surface.”
Drake said she’s eager for Sept. 30 to roll around.
“We will still have one or two months of good bike-riding weather after it’s done,” she said.
Jarvis isn’t resting with this project nearing completion. Right now, on his drawing board, is the Ponderosa School Path, which will begin at the Kings Green Subdivision, head west to the elementary school, at 4188 King Ave. East, and eventually tie into existing trails near Cabela’s.
“That’s in the planning stages right now,” he said. “We hope to be ready for construction next spring.”