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Crews made headway this week on a trail at the Missoula County Fairgrounds while bikers and walkers raved about the recent opening of the Milwaukee Trail pedestrian underpass at Russell Street.

At the fairgrounds, trail work underway will eventually help connect the site with Stephens Avenue and Russell Street and give people a more direct route to the fair. Fairgrounds managers earlier estimated the trail project at $1.15 million.

"We're just working towards having this entire trail system completed before the next fair," said Al Brule of Missoula County on Wednesday.

The work is part of a massive $19.5 million overhaul taking place at the fairgrounds. This week, Brule said workers were doing a variety of tasks.

"We are grading for the new trail. We're installing underground electrics and irrigation line. And we are pouring the new concrete edging for the trail, the section that goes through the fairgrounds," said Brule, construction manager for the county.

He initially estimated the project would be completed by June 2020, but Thursday, he noted an update from the contractor pegged completion by the middle of December 2019 as realistic. 

He said the crew consists of a landscaping team of two or three people, a civil contractor with three or four people doing the paving and grading, and other professionals doing electrical work.

The construction team also includes one atypical member. Cache, a Labrador puppy, is a regular on the site, courtesy of Dave DeCoite, with Jackson Construction.

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"He's there everyday," Brule said of Cache (and maybe of DeCoite, too). "What's not to like about a puppy?"

On the other end of Missoula, walkers and bikers already have been using the underpass at Russell Street. Roughly 3 1/2 blocks south of the Clark Fork River near Dakota Street, the underpass opened last Friday as part of the enormous Russell Street and bridge reconstruction, and won quick praise on social media.

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"The community response has been tremendous," said Bob Vosen, with the Montana Department of Transportation, in a statement provided by Big Sky Public Relations. "We're so pleased to be able to provide a safe facility for users of all abilities in the heart of Missoula."

An estimate of the numbers of users was not yet available. However, Vosen, the Missoula District administrator for the Department of Transportation, said the underpass not only helps walkers and bikers, it helps provide better vehicle traffic flow on Russell Street.

"We look forward to the continued use of the Milwaukee Trail in the neighborhood and to providing additional trail access upon the completion of the project," he said Wednesday in a text via Big Sky.

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