EAST MISSOULA – Moribund all summer, construction of a connector trail from the Kim Williams Nature Trail to Canyon River Golf Course is on the move again.

A crew from Grant Creek Excavating spent the past few days shoring up a signal pole on the east side of the Montana Rail Link trestle under which the trail passes. By next week the “wall guys” will be back to complete a retaining wall under the trestle, said Alan White, parks project manager for the city of the Missoula.

Construction on the $355,000 project began in April and was first targeted for completion by the end of June.

A combination of weather and unforeseen site conditions dashed that plan, White said.

The new trail will pass under not only the railroad trestle but two spans of Interstate 90 where the highway crosses the Clark Fork River. To qualify for a federal grant from the Community Transportation Enhancement Program, paving of the 1,300-foot trail is required, even though White said he would have preferred to keep it stabilized gravel like the trails it’s connecting.

The contractor wanted to get a head start on the approaches in April, but approval for the excavation and wall plans took longer than anticipated.

“Then we ended up with a real spit of wet weather when we had a lot of hard rain, so it was not prudent to continue excavating,” White said. “In concert with waiting for the approval, we chose that it was best to shut down the project.”

When work resumed, the wall of concrete block was more than halfway finished when unstable conditions in the steep embankment were encountered on the northeast side.

“It was significant enough that we wanted to take it back to the designer (Morrison-Maierle) and ultimately get a stability plan,” White said. “That takes time, and then we submitted the plan to the railroad to get them to approve it.”

The signal pole issue emerged in that review.

“That was the critical component,” White said. “We wanted to make sure there was no opportunity for that to become unstable and cause problems for the railroad.”

Montana Rail Link and the city of Missoula reached an agreement in March of 2015 regarding the use of railroad right-of-way, said Jim Lewis.

Such an agreement is “a major undertaking and not something that is typically approved in the rail industry. In fact, it is unlikely another railroad would have approved the project,” Lewis said, adding rail bed stability and potential trespassing issues were among the considerations pondered in deciding whether to approve or deny it.

MRL president Tom Walsh walked the proposed trail with Mayor John Engen. After consultation with the railroad’s real estate, engineering and operating departments, it was determined it could completed “in a safe manner with no interference to railroad operations,” Lewis said.

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The area has been closed to foot and bike traffic since the April start. White estimated it will be the end of September at the earliest before paving is complete and the new trail is opened. When it’s finished it will link an improved unpaved trail that skirts the Canyon River Golf Course along the river for a mile to the Kim Williams Trail near its east terminus.

The Kim Williams runs four miles through the Hellgate Canyon along the south side of the Clark Fork River to the University of Montana, where it hooks up to the Ron MacDonald Riverfront trail system.

That in turn connects to the Bitterroot Branch Trail. The $5 million South Reserve Pedestrian Bridge that’s expected to be completed in October or November will be the final link to a bike-pedestrian trail that runs alongside U.S. Highway 93 all the way to Hamilton.

Further trail connections to the east through the Bonner area are in the works or already completed.

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Mineral County, Veterans Issues Reporter

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian