Work on the Missoula to Lolo Trail is expected to begin next month, just as Fort Missoula Regional Park and a pedestrian crossing over South Reserve Street undergo their final designs.

Together, the three projects ring in at roughly $47 million. By 2017, they should all be open for public use, though the M2L trail will be the first out of the gate, with construction starting April 14.

“It’s moving along right now,” said Greg Robertson, director of public works with Missoula County. “We’re getting everything in place and ready to start pushing dirt.”

The county guaranteed coverage of any over-run costs for the $4.2 million trail project earlier this month. By doing so, it cleared the way for the Missoula Redevelopment Agency to move forward with its own plans for a $4.8 million bridge spanning South Reserve Street.

MRA has since approved a contract with DJ&A to complete the pedestrian crossing’s final design. The $388,994 contract award includes the superstructure’s design, ramps and landscaping.

“Neither the MRA board nor the staff believed that final design of the crossing should be approved until there was certainty about the construction of the new trail,” said MRA director Ellen Buchanan. “The county has now addressed the funding gap and is proceeding with construction.”

Buchanan said the bulk of the project will be paid for with bonds, though it's not yet known if they'll be sold publicly or privately. MRA is aiming to have the payment proposal before the City Council on April 6.

Buchanan hopes to bid the bridge project in November.

“Construction will begin on the Missoula to Lolo Trail in mid-April and could be completed this calendar year,” said Buchanan. “It’s unlikely that the bridge will be completed at the same time as the trail, but there is a possibility that they could be close if the trail project is not completed until spring.”

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Neil Miner, parks and trails design development manager with the city, said Fort Missoula Regional Park is on a similar path.

Final design and construction plans are now being firmed up. Meetings with stakeholders and the public are planned for April as the final plans take shape.

“We’ll probably break ground on the first phase in March 2016 and the second phase in September,” said Miner. “We don’t want to have the whole thing under construction at once.”

Miner said a spur trail off the regional park will also tie into the M2L trail.

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