Plans for a pedestrian bridge to cross Exposition Drive which runs in front of Metra Park, and for a lighting project to improve the livability and safety of the east end of downtown Billings, are among the priorities for the development of the East Billings Urban Renewal District (EBURD).
Tim Goodridge, EBURD Coordinator, recently explained plans to Yellowstone County Commissioners. While the county is not part of the tax increment finance district (TIF) that defines the EBURD, the commissioners are the overseers of MetraPark, which will be impacted by the EBURD – and whose activities impact the property owners within the EBURD.
In fact, Metra Park’s 400 event days makes the EBURD a “great place for hotels or restaurants,” said Goodridge. Whether those enterprises develop in large part depend on whether some kind of pedestrian crossing is built across Exposition Drive, he said.
HDR engineering put together a concept of a potential solution, a pedestrian bridge that would go over Exposition Drive somewhere in the vicinity of 3rd or 4th Avenue North. The concept design would cost $3.5 million to build.
“It can be like this or something like it,” said Goodridge, explaining that it is just the first step in a process that will solicit as much public input as possible, including that of county officials administering Metra Park.
To build a tunnel under Exposition Drive was explored, but there are so many utility lines underground “it made more sense to go over it.”
The design of the bridge would be important because, “It is something everyone will see when they drive down the road,” said Goodridge. Also, Exposition Drive is the focus of another civic effort to make that area a grand entrance into Billings.
Boundaries of the EBURD roughly extend from Metra Park to Downtown Billings, between 1st Avenue North and the rims. A TIF was established for the area to improve its infrastructure. These two projects are part of those infrastructure improvements.
The proposed bridge concept would impact three property owners and is dependent on whether they would be interested in donating right-of-way.
Asked by the commissioners how the proposal would impact Metra Park and if any right of way would be expected of Metra Park, Goodridge said that depends on what Metra Park wants and its master plan for the future.
The pedestrian crossing could enter directly into Metra Park “with perhaps a locked gate.” But, the preliminary concept has been designed to turn immediately at the sidewalk, paralleling Exposition Drive.
It would be handicap accessible, but was not designed with elevators because “elevators are a target for vandalism.” It would also accommodate bicyclists, and would be an important connector for the bike trail system in Billings.
Other factors that are yet to unfold will probably have an impact on what is eventually done to address the pedestrian issue at Exposition Drive, said Goodridge. For example, the completion of the Billings Bypass is expected to impact traffic flows which will affect Exposition Drive in the future. Also, the City of Billings is doing a two-way traffic study for downtown which could impact traffic patterns. Also, planned changes to Exposition Drive and updating of the utility systems and storm water drainage will impact the design.
There were questions about the bridge’s ability to accommodate big loads needing to use Exposition Drive, which is actually part of the state highway system. Goodridge said that the bridge would be designed so that it could be disassembled and reassembled for the rare instances that would be necessary.
Another issue that would have to be determined is who would be the owner of record for the bridge. What agency would be responsible for managing and maintaining it?
A more immediate priority for the EBURD is installing more street lights to make the area safer and to help make it a more desirable place for residential development.
Top complaints for the area are about the presence of transients, crime and vandalism, said Goodridge. “More people living there will make it safer.”
The $1.5 million project includes streets from 10th to 22nd and would put into place 168 lights.
Design for the lighting project is already under way and is expected to be completed in October.
The design includes light posts that are decorative.