MISSOULA - Plans to convert the Clark Fork River railroad trestle near the Old Sawmill District into a pedestrian crossing could be back on the table, city officials said last week.
Ellen Buchanan, director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, said the Washington Corp. has agreed to allow the city to explore other uses for the crossing, so long as rail could be restored at a future date if needed.
“MRA has been working on this project long before I showed up,” said Buchanan. “We got the green light from the Washington Co. and Montana Rail Link to move forward with feasibility, evaluation and preliminary engineering.”
With approval from the railroad industry and MRA’s board of commissioners, Buchanan will issue a request for proposals in the coming months to begin the review, continuing the city’s effort to use the bridge as a non-motorized crossing.
Development of the Old Sawmill District south of the river will eventually bring new housing into the area while development of the Riverfront Triangle north of the River eyes a similar outcome, along with other amenities from dining to entertainment.
The trestle is part of the old Bitterroot branch line that rarely sees railroad activity. It’s also one of the last missing links on the Bitterroot Branch Trail, which extends south through Missoula into the Bitterroot Valley.
Earlier this year, MRA’s Board of Commissioners set a list of top priorities for Urban Renewal District II, which is set to sunset in nine years. The exit plan includes conversion of the trestle for non-motorized use, along with infrastructure needs, housing and lighting the Bitterroot Branch Trail.
Completing the exit plan will require bonding, and that will require City Council approval. Without approval, most of the goals – including the crossing – would likely go unfilled, MRA has said.
“The request for proposals would look at an all-purpose facility that turns (the trestle) into a bike-ped trail, but also is done in a way that doesn’t permanently preclude that trestle from having rail use if there’s a desire to do so,” Buchanan said. “This is a top priority project in MRA’s exit plan for the district.”