Along Congested Roads, Kalispell Plans New Safe Walking Routes

New pedestrian paths planned along busy section of U.S. 93, Three Mile Drive

By Dillon Tabish

Sunset Boulevard, for pedestrians in Kalispell, is far from an enjoyable or appealing route, as the name would suggest.

Those who are willing to brave the stretch of road that winds from downtown past Buffalo Hill Golf Course to the north side of town must walk along the narrow shoulder of the congested highway or trudge through the ditch, which has a well-worn dirt pathway from decades of use.

“It’s not easy to travel through there and it doesn’t lend to the feel of safety,” said Chad Fincher, director of the city’s parks and recreation department.

By next fall, city officials hope to have the situation remedied by adding a new pedestrian path on the east side of Sunset Boulevard, which is also U.S. Highway 93. The path, which is undergoing final design changes by an engineer and should break ground in spring or summer, will be separated from the road and stretch from Wyoming Street to Conway drive near Kalispell Regional Medical Center. It will connect with a similar pathway the city developed this summer from Conway toward the north end of town.

The city has refocused its efforts on creating safe pathways through the community in recent years, identifying a need for bicycle and pedestrian options.

The latest path will be one of the most prominent additions considering it will parallel one of the busiest sections of road in Kalispell, the main artery of U.S. 93 flowing through the heart of town toward the bustling commercial district on the north side.

The goal of the latest path is to create a safe and convenient trail connector along U.S. 93 from downtown to Flathead Valley Community College, the hospital and other businesses and neighborhoods up north.

“We’ve been able to do a lot of little segments and we’re hoping to start making some of these critical connections to get our bike and pedestrian community to these areas without them having to play leap frog,” Fincher said. “It’s definitely a priority for our department.”

The project is estimated to cost $530,000 and is being funded by a federal transportation grant established in the Highway Bill to support pedestrian paths throughout communities in the U.S.

Kalispell successfully landed two grants through the Transportation Alternatives Project.

Thanks to the grant funding, another path will be created along Three Mile Drive, which has become a bustling two-lane road since new subdivisions have continued to fill up in recent years. The path will run from North Meridian Road past the Kalispell Middle School toward the new U.S. 93 Alternate Route. There will also be a path stretching north to the middle school, ensuring kids will have safe access to Three Mile Drive and adjacent neighborhoods.

“There are so many new houses and so many young families out there, we feel getting those families into town safely is important,” Fincher said.

The Three Mile path will cost an estimated $272,500. The federal grant will cover $235,930 of the cost, and the state will pitch in $31,390. The city will pay $5,180.

The goal is to have both paths completed by fall 2015, Fincher said.

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