The linkage factor

U.S. Highway 93 may have the monopoly on Missoula-to-Lolo traffic, but Missoula city and county planners are looking at a way to offer bicyclists and pedestrians another option.

On Tuesday, Oct. 2, consultants with DJ&A Engineers in Missoula rolled out three potential routes for a Missoula to Lolo trail—the end goal being to tie it to the existing pedestrian path running south from Lolo to Hamilton. Project manager Chris Anderson says DJ&A is still in the early stages of exploring a possible trail, but Missoula city and county officials did manage to secure federal funds to float the firm's feasibility study this year.

"I think there's a lot of excitement around the project, a lot of interested people," Anderson says. "Certainly, in the [Missoula] Long Range Transportation Plan, this is one project that consistently comes up and is championed by many people in Missoula."

Two of the potential routes would follow Highway 93—one on the east side and one on the west. Anderson says a third would start at Lower Miller Creek Road and snake up past Haugan Drive to a piece of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks land along the Bitterroot River. The feasibility study has been limited to existing city-county rights of way.

Anderson says the idea for a trail connecting Missoula to Lolo has been "floating around" for a long time. Talk in both communities grew more serious after the completion of the Highway 93 bike trail project; citizens even formed the Lolo to Missoula Trail Alliance. "The missing piece of the puzzle is that section between Lolo and Missoula," Anderson says, "so it kind of got thrust into the spotlight."

Anderson estimates the project would cost between $5 million and $10 million—or more, if a bridge needs to be build.

DJ&A is also working on the proposed Milltown State Park, which Anderson says could precipitate public pressure in building a bridge across the Clark Fork River and connecting it to the Kim Williams Trail. If that happens, and the Missoula to Lolo trail goes forward, bicyclists in the area would be able to travel from Turah to Hamilton without interacting with highway traffic.

That, Anderson says, is something planners believe the Missoula community "wants, and truly needs."

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