Plans for a multimillion-dollar pedestrian bridge that would provide access to MetraPark across Exposition Drive will be unveiled April 19 at the annual meeting of the Billings Industrial Revitalization District.
Those plans call for an eye-catching steel bridge faced with wood and stone that would stretch 175 to 200 feet over Exposition Drive where it meets Third Avenue North.
A report on the bridge project is one of several items on the agenda for the annual meeting, which will run from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. in the First Interstate Bank Operations Center, 1800 Sixth Ave. N.
HDR Engineering Inc., of Billings, recently completed a feasibility study of the bridge project, the cost of which was estimated to be as high as $4 million. The $35,000 study was commissioned by the East Billings Urban Revitalization District and paid for with EBURD tax increment funds.
The EBURD is the mostly industrial area that runs from the eastern edge of downtown Billings to MetraPark, roughly between Montana Avenue and Sixth Avenue North.
The Billings Industrial Revitalization District, or BIRD, is made up of property owners in the area, and the BIRD serves in an advisory capacity to the City Council on EBURD projects.
The bridge is considered an important part of efforts to redevelop that part of town. A master plan for the Exposition Gateway area of the EBURD, completed in 2013, envisions the property nearest to MetraPark becoming a lodging and hospitality hub, preferably anchored by a hotel.
But such commercial development would be difficult without a pedestrian bridge, according to Tim Goodridge, BIRD coordinator.
“That’s always been a barrier to somebody wanting to build there,” he said. “That’s the busiest street in Montana. This plan is a solution to that.”
There is no funding for the bridge at the moment and no plans to build it anytime soon. There are other important projects looming in the district, Goodridge said, but the bridge, if and when it is built, could use a combination of city, county and EBURD tax increment funds. It could also be built, wholly or in part, by a private developer.
“If a hotel or motel comes along and wants to locate across from the Metra, we can hand them this shovel-ready project,” Goodridge said.
The study looked at several locations for pedestrian access from the EBURD to MetraPark, and it considered the option of tunneling under the multi-lane road, which turns into Main Street a little north of MetraPark, as well as going over it with a bridge.
The feasibility study concluded that a bridge made more sense for several reasons. One was that a bridge would involve far less traffic disruption, since “the large truss span could be assembled on-site and lifted into place during a single road closure at night.” A tunnel would require phased construction and the reconstruction of Exposition Drive.
Another factor is that so many utilities—including large water and sewer lines—are buried under that stretch of Exposition Drive that it would be costly and difficult to put a tunnel there.
The study also concluded that a bridge would be less likely to be vandalized and that going over a bridge would give pedestrians “a heightened sense of security,” as opposed to walking through a tunnel.
Also, the study said, “Aesthetic opportunities can be applied to the overpass to enhance the crossing as a gateway into the City of Billings.” As shown in the study, the bridge bears the marketing slogan, “Montana’s Trailhead.”
Also on the agenda for the annual meeting is a discussion of plans to expand on the infrastructure improvements completed on 10 blocks of the EBURD in 2015. Those improvements, on parts of 10th and 11th streets and Second and Third avenues, included new utilities, curbs and gutters, streetlights and a complete reconstruction of the streets.
In the next phase, Goodridge said, the BIRD would like to extend those improvements west, from 11th Street to 13th Street. Eventually, he said, the hope is to have streetlights everywhere in the district, which would make it much easier to attract residential development.
There will also be an update on Montana Department of Transportation plans to reconstruct two miles of First Avenue North, from Division street all the way to North 10th Street.
That project, which wouldn’t begin for at least three years, would involve rebuilding substandard portions of the roadway, including some curbs, gutters and sidewalks, and making improvements to comply with guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It would also include new streetlights and a replacement of the traffic signals at North 13th Street.
Details: The annual meeting will include a free lunch and there will be door prizes, with a grand prize of a custom-made steel fire pit from Pacific Recycling. For reservations, call Tim Goodridge at 272-4321 or write to him at BillingsBird@gmail.com.