Residents, employers and the next generation are demanding more and connected trails. Trails provide many benefits to the entire community; transportation benefits – by reduction of vehicular congestion, health benefits – through increased opportunities for physical activity, safety benefits – reducing conflict between pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicular traffic, as well as connectivity to and from schools, workplaces, and other destinations. Other benefits of bike and walk transportation include improved air quality by reducing emissions. Trails attract new businesses and benefits re-development.
Billings TrailNet receives requests for trails often, and two of the most requested trail connections are: 1) a trail between Swords Park and Zimmerman Park, which is estimated to cost $3.5 million to build; and 2) a trail from the rims to the valley, which was estimated to cost $4 million to build if created adjacent to Zimmerman Trail.
While these are some of the more expensive trails to build, most trails cost approximately $350,000 per mile.
Billings previously built trails with funds from the federal Community Transportation Enhancement Program (CTEP, 1994 – 2012). Billings TrailNet raised funds (community match dollars) which allowed the city and county to multiply funding for trail infrastructure 8-10 times.
According to the Billings Area Bikeway and Trails Master Plan updated in 2016, “In recent years with the passage of the new Federal transportation bills (MAP-21 and the FAST Act), dedicated funding for non-motorized transportation has been reduced and become more competitive with other Montana communities. The Billings area has received only $664,930 in Transportation Alternatives (TA) grant funding from 2012- 2016, versus annual dedicated funding under the previous transportation bill through the Community Transportation Enhancements Program (CTEP). of $3.87 million from 2008-2012. This 82% reduction has had a palpable effect on the pace and number of projects being developed, resulting in a slowing of bikeway and trail development. To provide additional revenue streams to implement the plan’s recommendations, dedicated local funding sources should be established.“
Billings TrailNet has donated more than $500,000 (multiplied 8-10 times by federal grant funds requiring a community match) to construct trails in Billings.
The Billings community wants trails. Park facilities that are most important to Billings residents are walking and biking trails, according to the Billings Parks & Recreation Master Plan 2016 citizen survey.
Billings needs a dedicated source of funding to continue to build trails, and it is asking the community to move forward and finish what has been started: a first-class urban multi-use trail system.
On Monday, Oct. 1, Billings TrailNet will present this information and the case for implementing a public funding program which will resume the momentum Billings once had in building and connecting its multiuse trail system.
One idea is a $2-$5 monthly addition on Billings Public Utility customers’ bills.
If all households in the community paid $24 per year to a trail fund, Billings would generate approximately $1 million per year to build and connect its trails. And as part of the community’s transportation system, trails support people of all age groups, genders, physical ability levels and neighborhoods. Billings’ growing community of elderly citizens, new residents, families and visitors wants trails to walk, bike, commute and get to school and work.
The program is similar to the Yellowstone Valley Electric Coop’s Operation Round Up, where members receiving service are enrolled in a program which benefits the community by rounding their bill to the nearest dollar and can opt out at any time.
The Billings Public Utilities voluntary source for funding would be an important way to build the Billings nonmotorized transportation system to support transportation, safety, health, business, economic development and environment.