City, county and private entities are asking Montana Rail Link to allow a trail to be constructed from one end of Hamilton to the other on the company's 100-foot right-of-way.
A letter was mailed to MRL on Thursday with a request to begin discussions on the potential for the trail.
The letter was approved by the City of Hamilton, Ravalli County Commission, Bitterroot Land Trust, Ravalli County Park Commission and the Bike-Walk Bitterroot organization.
The groups are asking the MRL to consider allowing the construction of a 10-foot-wide trail that would connect with the existing trail along Highway 93 north of Hamilton. It would go east on the north side of the Riverside Cutoff Road, then south on the Old Corvallis road, over a bridge across the Corvallis canal and then follow the MRL ownership along the east side of the existing tracks until reaching Golf Course Road.
The trail would then connect with an existing trail that ends at Angler’s Roost at the south side of town.
Bob Cron of the County Park Board has been spearheading the proposed project.
He said the hope is the project would be paid primarily through a Federal Highway Alternative Gas Tax grant from the Montana Department of Transportation.
“A number of us have been exploring the idea for a trail for some time,” Cron said. “We’ve worked on some smaller projects related to pedestrians and bikes. This one has been sitting around for quite a long time so we decided to take the bull by the horns and see if Montana Rail Link would be willing to give us a lease.”
The concern is that since the completion of the Lolo portion of the Bitterroot bike trail, bicycle traffic to Hamilton has continued to grow.
“More and more of them are coming from that end and once they hit Hamilton, they are dumped onto a five-lane highway,” Cron said. “There are sidewalks in places, but it’s not contiguous.”
The proposed trail would about 2.5 miles long.
Cron said Montana Department of Transportation officials have indicated that bike trails cost between $500,000 to $750,000 a mile to construct.
“We might need to build it in pieces depending on what funding is available,” he said. “We have a lot of things to work out, but none of it can even get started until we know if Montana Rail Link is interested in talking about the idea.”
MRL has worked with Missoula to allow for portions of its bike trails to be built on its right-of-way.
“It’s not as precedent setting as I first thought,” Cron said.
Both the Ravalli County Commission and Hamilton City Council unanimously approved sending the letter to MRL.
“We are going to try to get some momentum on this project,” said Hamilton mayor Dominic Farrenkopf “Hopefully we’ll hear back from Montana Rail Link soon. Getting pedestrian and bike traffic through Hamilton currently is an issue. This would be a real benefit to the community.”