The closure in March of Zimmerman Trail for a stabilization project after a rock slide has drawn attention to alternative routes connecting Molt Road in the valley to Highway 3 atop the Rimrocks.
The idea is not new.
“Honestly, we thought about this 10 years ago. It comes full circle,” said Scott Walker, transportation planner.
In 2004 the Billings City-County Planning Department hired HKM Engineering to prepare a feasibility study for a Molt Road/Highway 3 collector road.
“It was one of those planning studies, we, at the time, thought would be great idea. It’s still a good idea. It’s still around and quite viable in my mind,” Walker said on Tuesday.
“We selected an option. It basically died there,” Walker said.
The preferred route would go to the north of the Ironwood subdivision with the west half of the connective road skirting the railroad, Walker said.
All five alignments studied would intersect with Molt Road west of Zimmerman Trail and with Highway 3 north of Billings.
The study appears headed toward resurrection.
Yellowstone County Commission Chairman Jim Reno said he brought up the study during a meeting Tuesday of the Policy Coordinating Commission, which addresses transportation issues and includes city, county and state officials.
“I do know we need another route out of the valley. The time has come, I think, to dust off that study,” Reno said.
Reno has asked Walker to send copies of the study to PCC members for review and further discussion.
“This is going to give us a huge starting point if local elected officials and the PCC want to start something,” Walker said.
Reno said he believes there is public support for “getting serious” about another route out of the valley.
The 2010 tornado that struck MetraPark ultimately helped move along plans for a bypass route that will connect Old Highway 312 with Interstate 90, Reno said.
And the March 25 rockslide slide that closed Zimmerman Trail, he continued, could do the same for a connector route on the West End.
Zimmerman Trail is the site of a $718,220 rock stabilization project by the Montana Department of Transportation. The route, which connects Highway 3 with Rimrock Road, is expected to reopen in late June.
The idea for an alternate route to Zimmerman Trail also is drawing interest from area residents.
Steve Bjordahl, who has lived at 3121 Farnam St., under the guardrail east of Zimmerman Trail, for 22 years, said the traffic volume and size of vehicles on the road has increased during that time as the West End has developed.
Bjordahl used jog up Zimmerman Trail on Saturday mornings. “I wouldn’t ever do that now,” he said.
The issue also is of interest at meetings of the Rimrock Neighborhood Task Force. At last month’s meeting, about 60 people attended to learn more about Zimmerman Trail and transportation issues, Bjordahl said.