First, a little history…
The Skyline Trail has been a multi-year process in the planning. It started with a feasibility study done in 2015- “The Highway 3 Corridor Study,” which sought to address current vehicle and non-motorized traffic circulation and access along the corridor, as well as plans for future changes to traffic patterns caused by the Inner Beltloop connection and development activity. The study recommended “constructing a cohesive corridor that operates safely and efficiently for all modes of traffic,” and included an access management plan for the corridor including bike and pedestrian amenities along the rim face, a parking plan and a stormwater management plan.
Billings TrailNet (BTN) reviewed a map of open areas between trail segments which, if connected, would improve bicycle and pedestrian traffic by giving people a continuous trail, separated from traffic. BTN conducted surveys and in-person interviews to determine which non-existing trail segments were most desired/important in the safety and enjoyment of nonmotorized travelers. With more than 200 unique responses to the survey, BTN found that a trail along the rims, between Swords Park and Zimmerman Park, was among the top as a community priority.
With few hurdles to overcome (no right-of-way acquisition; a complete feasibility study which indicated major community benefits and popularity with trail users), BTN began conversations in May 2016 with Montana Department of Transportation, City of Billings Public Works/Engineering, City/County Planning, Billings Parks and Recreation Department and Highway 3 Corridor Study engineering firm, Sanderson Stewart. BTN sought to learn how they could help to bring this trail project forward.
It was determined that Billings TrailNet could pay for the engineering of the trail in order to position the city and Billings TrailNet to apply for grants. Many grants do not pay for engineering, and applications with “shovel-ready” projects are considered stronger candidates for grant awards. In addition to putting the project in a good position to receive grant funds, the engineering plan provides a good cost estimate, which enables Billings TrailNet to raise funds responsibly.
In early 2017, Billings TrailNet entered into a contract to have Sanderson Stewart do a preliminary design on the trail, and also agreed to begin the study with a memorandum of understanding with the City of Billings that the City of Billings would manage the project.
When the preliminary study was complete and all parties were apprised of the design and the cost estimate, Billings TrailNet agreed to complete the design, and entered into a second contract with Sanderson Stewart. This resulted in a cost estimate of just under $3 million for this 3 mile trail.
Q: Why don’t you put the trail on the north side of the highway?
A: There are several reasons:
- Private property on the north side necessitates acquiring easements, which can be costly.
- The experience for people traveling by foot or on bike on the north side would not provide the scenic views and shade from trees as it does on the south side of the highway, overlooking the city.
- Relocating the trail to the north side would necessitate at least two highway crossings to access Zimmerman Park (on the south side of the highway) and Swords Park (also on the south side of the highway).
- Relocating the trail to the north side would also not mitigate the haphazard parking and stormwater issues that were addressed in the Highway 3 Corridor Study.
Q: Would this trail prevent me from riding or hiking the dirt trail on the rims?
A: no, this trail would not replace that trail. It will be located south of the Highway 3 guardrail and north of the homes.
Q: How much will the trail cost?
A: It is estimated to cost approximately $3 million
Q: Why so much?
A: There are three steep drops just south of the guardrail. This necessitates retaining walls and a railing on the south side of the trail for safety.
Q: How much have you raised so far?
A: Approximately $90,000
Q: Can you build a small section at a time as funds become available?
A: Yes, our engineer has designed the trail into 6 segments, so we can keep building on as funds become available:
Section 1- $59,073
Section 2- $371,936
Section 3- $225,501
Section 4- $549,787
Section 5- $795,406
Section 6- $897,269
Q: Why doesn’t MDT build it?
A: MDT has a policy that they will not be building nonmotorized trails unless they are funded by the Federal Transportation Alternatives Program.