Category: City and County
Published: Tuesday, 19 August 2014 14:40
Written by Press Room
A Long Range Transportation Plan that took over a year to develop for Yellowstone County was given its final approval by the Policy Coordinating Committee during its regular monthly meeting.
The plan which was written by Kittelson and Associates of Boise, Idaho, under contract with the City County Planning Department, includes forecasts and projects through 2035, although it will be revisited for reviews every four years, according to Scott Walker of the Planning Department. It can also be adjusted as needed, said Walker.
Walker expressed satisfaction that the process of developing the plan included some 600 comments from the public.
Besides looking at the needs of streets and roads, the plan places special focus on rail transportation, the needs of freight transportation and the needs of pedestrian and bike trails.
The $240 million in projects identified as priorities over the next ten years are all "fiscally constrained," explained Walker, which means they have identified funding sources for each. About $194 million in "illustrative" projects are recommended beyond that which are not yet "on the drawing board," nor is funding identified for them.
The committed projects include a $111 million for phases of building the Northend Bypass, which will connect Lockwood and the Billings Heights across the Yellowstone River. Walker said that the first part of that project will probably focus on the interstate highway intersection at Johnson Lane in Lockwood. And, the next likely phase will be to build the bridge across the Yellowstone River.
Another large project includes reconstruction of a three lane road on 32nd Street West between King Avenue to Gabel Road, Phase II of the Bench Boulevard reconstruction, and the new road construction of the Inner Belt Loop.
It includes over $10 million in expenditures for pedestrian, bicycle and multiuse trains, and over $1 million for transit or public transportation, with another $9 million recommended for the future.
Most projects draw upon a mix of funding from federal and state transportation agencies, as well as local funding.
The lack of inclusion of Lockwood in the county's new transportation plan prompted one Lockwood resident to voice opposition to the plan, which was adopted by the Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC) on Tuesday. Don Reed voiced strong concern about the fact that Lockwood isn't even mentioned in the year-long study and proposed future plans for the county. Reed, who is also a member of the county planning board, said that he voted against approving the plan because Lockwood isn't included, despite the community's dire needs.
As a result of his comments the PCC plans to hold an informational meeting with local, state and Lockwood representatives to assess the situation and review historical expenditures. Billings Mayor, Tom Hanel, who chairs the PCC, said that he was not well informed about the issues and suggested that the PCC should be better informed. The Transportation Plan may be viewed on the City of Billings website.
County Commissioner Jim Reno pointed to the proposed Northend Bypass project as a large project that will have impact for Lockwood.
Reed said that that project had more to do with the Heights than with Lockwood.
Commissioner Reno stated, "The Lockwood Community is welcome to come in and make a proposal. It is my view that we spend quite a lot in Lockwood."
Commissioner Bill Kennedy explained that there a few roads in Lockwood which would qualify for matching funding and there is no group in Lockwood which could provide matching funds, which many transportation programs require.
A proposed project which would connect Molt Road to Highway 3, as an alternative means to connecting the north end of Billings (the Heights) to the west end, is included in the list of future projects as an "illustrative" project – little more than an idea that may be advanced in the future.
Given the temporary closure of Zimmerman Trail this summer, the proposal has received broader public discussion. "It's been the dialogue of many public meetings," said Walker.
The Planning Board discussed the project at length, reported Walker, and decided to leave it listed as an illustrative project in the long range transportation plan. If funding were to appear it can be pulled forward at any time, he explained.
In keeping with the plan, Walker announced that they plan a feasibility study to identify the best route to better connect bikers /pedestrians from the Yellowstone River to Zoo Montana.
Before being approved by the PCC the Transportation Plan must be approved by the City County Planning Board, the Billings City Council, and Yellowstone County Commissioners. The PCC is comprised of representatives of the city council, county commissioners, the planning board and the State Department of Transportation. The PCC is the governing body of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) which includes the City of Billings and heavily populated area as they extend beyond the city limits.