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Little has changed on the Shiloh Road project over the past few months, and local and state officials remain confident that construction will begin next year.

At a stakeholders meeting Friday, Montana Department of Transportation Director Jim Lynch told a crowd of about 40 that the state will bid the project in three phases. The north and south phases will be built next year, and the middle phase could begin next year or in 2010. Either way, the $46 million project won't be finished until at least 2010.

The project will rebuild 4.5 miles of Shiloh Road, from Zoo Drive to Poly Drive. The road will be four lanes wide and will feature roundabouts at most intersections. A rebuilt Shiloh Road is expected to spur economic development in the area for years, which is why so many local leaders are pushing MDT to get the project done.

The state still hasn't reached an agreement with two landowners whose property lies in the project's middle phase. After coming to terms with 103 landowners so far, the MDT is continuing to negotiate right-of-way access with the Eggebrecht Family Limited Partnership and Shiloh Crossing LLC, which is the developer of the Kohl's shopping center, on Shiloh Road at King Avenue West. The Eggebrecht Family partnership owns the Shiloh Village mobile home park, which is north of King Avenue West.

Lynch said MDT is making progress with both landowners but that condemnation is always an option. He said there's still plenty of time to work out deals.

"One of them will happen in the near future; the other one might take a bit," he said. Lynch didn't say which landowner would be signed first.

Lynch said that even if the MDT struck deals with the landowners soon, the project would still be built in phases because of possible cost and time savings. The middle section runs from just south of King Avenue West to north of Faith Chapel. The north section runs from Faith Chapel to Poly Drive, and the south section runs from just south of King Avenue West to Zoo Drive.

Lynch said the state has secured about $30 million of the $46 million price tag, with another $12 million pledged. Most of the money is from the federal government and congressional earmarks. That leaves the project with a $4 million shortfall. Yellowstone County, Billings and MDT officials are hoping that Montana's congressional delegation can find some of the money.

If the money isn't found, parts of the project may need to be trimmed. State officials said building roundabouts using asphalt instead of concrete could save $3.5 million. And Lynch said the project's cost may actually drop, depending on the economic situation next spring and the cost of raw materials.

City officials had preferred concrete roundabouts because they last longer, and the city will be in charge of maintaining the road after it is built. But on Friday, Public Works Director Dave Mumford said the city could live with asphalt roundabouts if it helped the project, especially since newer asphalt mixes hold up much better. He said the city would rather make that concession than cut money from landscaping the road, which will cost more than $1 million.

"I can't speak for the City Council, but we're not going to object, in Public Works, if it goes to asphalt roundabouts," Mumford said.

The project will also feature Montana's first sound barrier wall. The 510-foot-long wall will be built in front of the Fox Run townhomes. The wall will be six feet of concrete with four feet of transparent material on top of the concrete, said Kirk Spalding of Engineering Inc., the Billings company that is designing the road.

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