Missoula County this week placed its verbal support behind plans to construct a path during the Mullan Road reconstruction project, saying it meets a number of longstanding goals around expanded transportation modes and improved air quality.
But covering the $1.7 million cost may be a challenge. The county plans to explore its funding options over the coming weeks.
“At some point, we’re going to have to get back to the Montana Department of Transportation and tell them what we’d like to do,” said Shane Stack, director of the county’s Public Works. “This is something for you guys to think about.”
MDT plans to reconstruct a stretch of Mullan Road west of the city by adding six-foot shoulders to the side of the roadway. The $12 million project would also replace a bridge, make hydraulic improvements and complete other surface upgrades.
The federal-funded project is part of the secondary roads program and has been on tap for some time. The county nominated the project years ago, Stack said, and it’s now coming to fruition.
“When the county nominated this project, it didn’t include a shared-use path,” he said. “It’s been a while since this one was nominated, and there has been interest over the past four years by the county to include a shared-use path with the project.”
MDT said the county must cover the cost if it hopes to add the trail to the project. The scope of work stretches roughly from Deschamps Lane to Pulp Mill Road.
“We can include that if you’d like to pay for it,” Stack said. “That’s the offer on the table at this point.”
While county commissioners expressed interest in the trail this week, paying for it may be another matter. But Stack said a number of funding sources could be explored, including the trails bond and funds from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program.
“It’s been used in the past for things like sidewalks and trails, and I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t be eligible,” he said. “I see programs like Missoula in Motion and the city’s bike and pedestrian coordinator, that’s $400,000 a year we’re spending. It’s money we could be spending on infrastructure. Three years of that could cover these costs.”
The county may also approach MDT with a different proposal that would see the county fund the cost of preliminary engineering and acquiring right-of-way. That would cut the county’s costs to roughly $250,000, with hopes the state would pay for the trail’s construction.
“We do have a bit of history in taking alternative development of our trails system to make them more cost effective,” said Juniper Davis, manager of the county’s parks, trails and open lands. “There’s a little tradition to that in our program, thinking creatively and finding different solutions.”
The proposed trail project would add to a larger national trail system intended to run from Washington, D.C., to Washington state. The Mullan path sits on the route, though it’s currently incomplete.
Three years ago, the county helped complete the Bitterroot Branch Trail, completing a shared-use path that now extends from Missoula to Hamilton.
“I’m all for it,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “I’d like to offer up this right of way and preliminary engineering and see what they (MDT) say.”