City to light Bitterroot Branch Trail; infill interest high
(Missoula Current) The dark railroad corridor crossing Missoula may no longer see many trains, but the Bitterroot Branch Trail does get its share of bikers, cyclists, dog walkers and runners.
Soon, they'll have a lighted path guiding their way.
The Missoula Redevelopment Agency this week approved a $65,000 contract directing Cushing Terrell to design and engineer lighting the trail's 2.7-mile stretch from the south side of Missoula to the Clark Fork River.
Construction is expected to begin next year, according to Todd Gass with MRA.
“It's a predominant trail through Missoula's urban core,” he said. “Lighting this trail has been a long-term desire with the purpose of enhancing public safety for all trail users.”
Lighting the trail was one of several goals approved by MRA's board of commissioners and the Missoula City Council last year as part of an exit strategy for Urban Renewal District II.
The district will sunset in 2030 and before it does, the city looks to direct tax increment to a number of public improvements that include lighting the trail and converting the Montana Rail Link trestle across the Clark Fork River into a pedestrian bridge.
The exit strategy also details other priorities including the build-out of water mains and sidewalks within the district, and redeveloping California Street, which could make room another affordable housing project. Stabilizing portions of the Clark Fork River bank also is included.
Lighting the trail will likely be the first project checked off the list.
“This is one of those projects that wouldn't happen without tax increment,” said MRA director Ellen Buchanan. “The trail lighting is going to be a catalyst for other things.”
MRA has fielded interest from developers looking to capitalize off the trail's completion. Bissinger Place, a $17 million mixed-use project with 42 units proposed last March, may be the first to land along the trail on First Street.
Other housing projects could follow as the Bitterroot Branch Trail becomes one of the main non-motorized corridors crossing the city.
“We could end up getting more requests from developers that want to do some work along this trail,” said MRA board member Ruth Reineking. “It's going to be a great amenity.”
Lighting the trail also comes with safety considerations. Certain neighborhoods along the Bitterroot Branch and Milwaukee trails have sought increased lighting. Portions of the trail can feel isolated at night and, last month, police responded to a shooting at the Bitterroot Branch where it crosses South Avenue.
“This is a big deal. It's been needed for a long time,” said Reineking. “It's going to change that trail and the use of it. It's going to be a great improvement.”
The trail lighting will extend from the Milwaukee Trail near the river south to the pedestrian crossing on Reserve Street. The trail also extends 50 miles further to Hamilton, making it one of the longest paved trails in the region, though that portion will remain unlit.
MRA is also working to move the MRL pedestrian bridge forward. The railroad has largely agreed to the project but final details are still being discussed.
“Until we know what's going to happen to that, we can't really deal with that section (of the trail),” said Buchanan.