Last Thursday April 22, the Ravalli County Commissioners authorized Bike Walk Bitterroot to make a grant application on their behalf to build an off-road bicycle and pedestrian path along the south side of Golf Course Road. The paved pathway would extend from Highway 93 to the end of Tammany Street at Carriage Road.
Kyle Barber, a board member of Bike Walk Bitterroot, a local volunteer organization that works on making the Bitterroot a safe community for people to bike and walk in, told the
Commissioners that the grant application to Montana Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternative grant program was designed to address one of the biggest safety issues in the area. He said that the death of Robert Leonardi who was killed along the road in a hit and run incident in 2009 testifies to the need for improvements. He said the family was still reeling from it.
“We want to address this issue in a meaningful way,” said Barber. He said that Leonardi’s initials had been incorporated into the name of the path to honor his memory. It’s called the RAL Trail path.
Barber said that he worked with Hamilton’s Public Works Director Donny Ramer, Road and Bridge Department Administrator John Horat, a private engineer from HDR Engineering Dan Harmon, as well as with residents in the area, before arriving at this vision of the path.
The concept was brought before the commissioners back in February and the matter was left open with four questions the commissioners needed answers to: the root feasibility of the project, the project budget, plans to address long term maintenance, and a plan for landowner and community outreach.
Barber said that he visited with the city’s Park Board, the Road and Bridge Department and neighbors to the project and they all had pretty much the same questions.
He came prepared to answer all the questions and did. He said the first question was, is the path really possible to install along the roadside? And if it is, which side of the road should it be placed on?
It was determined that a path from 8 to 10 feet wide could be installed with a three-foot buffer distance from the road. When the inspection started out, more than a few people thought that the path would go on the north side, but after considering all the details, such as number of driveways and entrances on each side, the number and location of telephone poles, encroachments, and other issues, it was decided that the south side of the road was actually the best choice.
The total budget for the project is estimated at $750,000. The Transportation Alternative grant would cover 86.58% of the cost. The remaining 13.42%, or about $100,000, would have to be met by a local funding match.
Barber told the commissioners that Bike Walk Bitterroot was willing to take on the lion’s share of the work needed to process this grant and implement the project. He said they had already raised $30,000, about 30% of the match requirement with funds from Bike Walk Bitterroot, Robert Leonardi Memorial Fund, and the Rapp Family Foundation. He was asking the commissioners to chip in $20,000 in county funding. He said that Bike Walk had a good plan for raising the remaining $50,000 for the match. He said public support for the project has been tremendous. The commissioners received 139 letters of support from the public for the project and, in a rarity, received no public comment against it.
Although Barber expressed confidence in being able to raise the remaining $50,000, he told the commissioners that he did not want to leave them hanging. In order to reduce any risk to the county, he proposed that they create a Memorandum of Understanding between the county and Bike Walk Bitterroot that the organization would be responsible for establishing a maintenance fund and program. He said snow plowing, sweeping, and other jobs could be contracted out and done using the many volunteers that they know are willing to help. The fund would be held by the county and managed by the county and the MOU would guide Bike Walk in how the funds are used. Bike Walk would do all the administrative work involved and help out with engaging the contractors.
Authorization of the grant application, approval of the $20,000 contribution and the MOU with Bike Walk were approved unanimously by the Commissioners.