The story of how a shoulderless, two-lane country road became Billings' newest north-south arterial stretches back more than a decade. The years of planning, public meetings and lobbying for funding demonstrate what local leaders, working together, can accomplish in partnership with the state and federal government.
Shiloh Road has frequently been the subject of this column over the years because it is important to Billings business and to the entire community.
Shiloh's no “bridge to nowhere.” This 4.5-mile, four-lane urban arterial with a separate bike/pedestrian trail connects Billings to its greatest potential for commercial development. Four years ago, Sanderson Stewart, the Billings firm that prepared the design, identified $750 million in economic activity being planned in connection with the road improvement.
Since then, Shiloh Crossing shopping center has opened at Shiloh and King Avenue. Developer Steve Corning last week told a Gazette reporter that Shiloh Crossing businesses have seen an uptick in customer traffic in the short time since construction closures have ended. Corning also said he is in talks with another potential anchor store for the shopping center, which already has one “major,” a Kohl's department store.
Ten years ago last month, Billings leaders celebrated the opening of the Shiloh interchange on Interstate 90. Both of Montana's U.S. senators, Max Baucus and Conrad Burns, attended because they had successfully earmarked $16 million in federal funding for the $21 million project.
At that October 2000 Shiloh interchange ribbon cutting, Baucus was asked what's next.
“Shiloh Road,” he replied.
The widening of the road was already in the planning.
The Montana Department of Transportation district office on Morey Lane became a gathering place for Shiloh Road proponents. The MDOT held several meetings to update Billings people on the project's progress and delays. MDOT Director Jim Lynch personally attended some meetings and Gov. Brian Schweitzer attended via teleconference from Helena at the request of the Billings Chamber of Commerce.
One huge challenge was acquiring right of way from 103 landowners without using condemnation, a challenge MDOT met on deadline.
The city of Billings and Yellowstone County donated right of way. The city undertook a major job in moving utilities in advance of the road construction. Because parts of the Shiloh right of way are outside the city limits, the city and county had to cooperate to make this project happen.
Through it all, the quest for federal funding was continuous. Baucus and Burns secured an earmark in 2005. After Jon Tester won election to the Senate, he worked with Baucus to get another earmark. In spring 2009, Shiloh Road was still millions short of its estimated $46 million cost. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act filled the gap with about $9 million in federal funds. That stimulus money paid the entire cost of building the middle portion of Shiloh Road, the section that was completed this month, save for landscaping and chip sealing.
With Montana still feeling the pain of the Great Recession, commercial development along Shiloh Road is likely to proceed more slowly than proponents hoped. However, now that the arterial is built, business will come. There will be no more major construction cutting off traffic at the city's west gate.
The Shiloh Road improvement means that motorists can drive from Rimrock Road to Zoo Drive without stopping, if they observe roundabout traffic etiquette. West End traffic flow is greatly improved. And, as the Shiloh bike trail is completed, Billings will add 4.5 miles to its growing trail system.
On Shiloh Road, Billings has a well-planned route for future growth.