By Michael Howell
The floodgates may soon be opened between the Bitterroot Valley and Missoula, but it won’t be water flooding through, it will be bicycles, and hopefully, they will flood both ways. As soon as the Highway 93 expansion project was finished in Ravalli County it didn’t take long for everyone to realize that the newly constructed bike path stretching 38 miles from Hamilton to Lolo fell about eight miles short of connecting to Missoula, one of the most bike-friendly towns in Montana. People on both sides of that glaring gap began to dream of making some connection.
On the Bitterroot side several individuals, organizations and agencies including the Bitterroot National Forest tried to make the dream come true by applying for federal lands access funds, noting the increased accessibility to the national forest in the Bitterroot for Missoula bikers. That grant application was unsuccessful.
Efforts from the Missoula side, however, have recently paid off as a grant for construction of the bike path was recently awarded through the state’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program. The $4.5 million grant will be combined with $400,000 in matching funds from the City of Missoula, $400,000 from Missoula County and $100,000 from the Montana Department of Transportation to pay for the project, estimated to cost a total of $5.48 million.