Calls for a pathway that would connect Bozeman and Belgrade along the Frontage Road were renewed Wednesday afternoon as residents voiced their desire for a trail between the cities.

The Bozeman Transportation Coordinating Committee, which features city, county and state representatives, adopted a motion at its monthly meeting Wednesday encouraging the Montana Department of Transportation to include a separated non-motorized path between Bozeman and Belgrade in an improvement project currently slated for the road.

“There’s been discussions about this for ages,” said Ralph Zimmer, a committee member who proposed the motion. “This is a golden opportunity.”

Jennifer Nelson with the Montana Department of Transportation, however, cautioned the group that trying to add a path to MDT’s current project could cause hiccups.

The slope flattening project would begin on Frontage Road just east of the Hyalite Creek crossing and extend a little over a mile and a half, ending east of the Mountain View subdivision. Proposed work includes slope flattening and widening the road with turn lanes and shoulders.

Preliminary field review has been completed on the project and now work is being done on the design, Nelson said.

Nelson cautioned that if MDT did include a path as part of the project, it would only be 1.6 miles long, making “simply a segment” of a path that “wouldn’t have logical termini from the point of view of a bicycle commuter.”

There are also funding issues, she said. MDT must prioritize funding projects statewide.

“That’s a very competitive environment,” she said.

Adding a path to the project could also slow down the implementation, Nelson said.

But community members urged building a Bozeman-to-Belgrade path, citing safety concerns and the potential of increased tourism revenue it could bring into the area.

“I drive this road six times a day and without fail, every few days I see some cyclist riding on the edge of this road,” said Marilee Brown with Citizens for a Safer Bozeman. “If these people are that desperate to do that, I know if we build something people will come.”

Kelly Pohl, associate director of the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, voiced support for the path. The land trust, which is a regional trails organization, receives more requests for this path than any other path in the region, Pohl said.

“This path really is in high demand,” Pohl said.

The path would be used by a variety of people, Pohl said, ranging from bicyclists to walkers and joggers to people in wheelchairs.

The path could also eventually connect to other trails in the area, Pohl added.

“Gallatin County is the fastest-growing county in the West,” Pohl said. “We need to incorporate now these kinds of pedestrian and bicycle facilities.”

Gene Townsend, former mayor of Three Forks and chairman of Headwaters Trail System, voiced his support of creating the path.

Townsend said his group has been working on trying to connect trails between Three Forks and Bozeman and, while it takes time and money to complete trails, it is a worthwhile endeavor.

“I think it would be a great project if we could all do it together,” Townsend said.

Liz Ann Kudrna, who is in a wheelchair, said the project’s proposed widened shoulders would not be safe enough.

“With cars going that fast, it would definitely set any wheelchair user up for disaster,” Kudrna said.

Rebecca Gleason with the Western Transportation Institute echoed the same concerns.

“I don’t think the shoulders are an appropriate, safe route for a non-motorized connection between Bozeman and Belgrade,” she said.

Whitney Bermes can be reached at wbermes@dailychronicle.com or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.

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Whitney Bermes is the city editor and covers cops and courts for the Chronicle.

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