MISSOULA, Mont. - A $4.5 million federal economic recovery grant should close the final gap in a trail system between Hamilton and Missoula.
The Bitterroot Trail in Lolo will be a 7.5-mile stretch, running along Highway 93 between Missoula and Lolo.
The city of Missoula and the county will each kick in $400,000 for the project. The Montana Department of Transportation will donate $100,000 in recycled asphalt.
The report used to obtain the grant said there have been at least three vehicle-involved pedestrian or cyclist deaths, and nine injuries on the stretch, in the past 20 years.
Bill Simmel is a competitive racer, who on Thursday rode his mountain bike on Highway 93 to Blue Mountain. He's careful negotiating the S-curves and their narrow shoulders.
"The shoulder is usually covered with debris," said Simmel, "so you ride the white line a lot of times, and it's a dangerous area."
The trail connecting Missoula to Lolo would give cyclists and pedestrians their own passageway parallel to Highway 93.
The city of Missoula did a traffic count of trail users in 2012. It found more than 600 bicyclists use the Bitterroot Branch Trail in the city of Missoula, per day, during the work week. The city expects those numbers to increase once the trail between Missoula and Lolo is finished.
"This is going to provide a great opportunity for people to use nonmotorized transportation," said Missoula Parks and Recreation's Jackie Corday.
It's a busy trail.
David and Diane Hipp rode their bikes from Stevensville to Lolo, and would make use of a trail into Missoula.
"We could ride all the way into Missoula, have a nice day," said David Hipp. "And connect onto Blue Mountain," said Diane Hipp.
The project must still go out to bid. But work on the trail could begin as early as next summer.