Flathead Beacon: Evergreen, Kalispell Receive Funding for Sidewalk Projects

by Micah Drew

Evergreen and Kalispell will receive $1.8 million for transportation alternative projects through the federal Surface Transportation Block Grant program as a part of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), according to an Aug. 17 press release from the office of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

The IIJA, which was signed into law in November 2021, includes funding for myriad priorities throughout Montana, including improvements to the state’s roads, bridges and highways, rural water projects, broadband internet expansion and reducing wildfire risk. The current round of Department of Transportation grants includes more than $26 million for projects across the state – Evergreen Community Partners will receive $1 million, and the city of Kalispell will receive $796,000 to complete sidewalk extensions to improve pedestrian safety.  

“Too many folks in Washington, D.C. don’t understand the challenges rural Americans face and the critical role our roads and bridges play in keeping communities connected,” Tester, the only member of Montana’s congressional delegation to vote in favor of the IIJA, said in the Aug. 17 press release. “That’s why I worked with Republicans and Democrats to pass my bipartisan infrastructure law, so we can invest in Montana’s roads, bridges, high-speed internet, water systems, and more to help grow our economy and strengthen our rural communities. This funding will help small towns from Sunburst to Whitehall stay connected, and I’m proud to see these federal dollars going to projects that will serve the Treasure State.”

Evergreen’s funding will go towards Phase II of the Safe Routes to Schools to improve pedestrian walkways along the U.S. Highway 2 corridor, near Evergreen Junior High School. In 2005, the Evergreen Community Partners (ECP) formed to solve the problem of limited sidewalks and pathways leading to the unincorporated area’s largest school and continues to spearhead the project along with the Evergreen School District.  

Evergreen is one of the most densely populated school districts in Montana, according to Superintendent Laurie Barron, but does not qualify for bus service due to its small geographic footprint, forcing many students to walk or bike to school along the side of Highway 2.

The project’s first phase, which is expected to begin construction next year, includes adding sidewalks on both sides of the highway from Evergreen Junior High School south to the old Kmart.

The second phase includes constructing sidewalks north of the school, from East Evergreen Drive to Poplar Drive along the east side of the highway, and from Meadowlark Drive to Terry Road on the west side.

“Having infrastructure that improves the safety of residents is a pretty universal thing that we know needs to happen,” ECP President Darla Harmon said. “The community is committed to making sure we can complete phase two of the Safe Routes to Schools Project for the kids.”

All project phases will include funding provided by a rural special improvement district and maintenance costs will be covered with a rural maintenance district supported by property owners along the construction area.

Construction on phase one is slated to begin next year, while a future third phase of the project will include plans for pathways along West Evergreen Drive.

The Kalispell portion of federal funding will go towards extending the multi-use pathway along Four Mile Drive near the Kalispell Youth Athletic Complex (Kidsports.)

Currently, there is a multi-use pathway that connects the Bypass trail along Four Mile Drive, but the pathway ends just up the hill from Kidsports at the entrance to the Bloomstone Development. A pathway inside Kidsports on the north side of Four Mile Drive begins at Champion Way, while a sidewalk on the south side of Four Mile Drive begins at Northland Drive, both extending to U.S. 93.

According to the city’s application, the project will construct approximately 815 linear feet of eight-foot-wide sidewalk, along with necessary safety features. A short, 120-foot section of sidewalk will be built on Kidsports, connecting the existing sidewalk to the western entrance along Four Mile Drive. There will also be a pedestrian crossing constructed near Northland Drive.

“This project will move pedestrians and bicyclists away from the road shoulder and off the immediate road surface allowing a continual, safe, and separated avenue of non-vehicular travel,” the application states. “With improved safety, both physical and perceived, a substantial increase of pedestrian/bicyclist usage to area destinations in anticipated.”

The sidewalk extension will complete a network of trails and pathways that provide east-west and north-south connectivity throughout the neighborhoods north of Kalispell without any breaks in linkages.

The full project is anticipated to cost roughly $920,000, with Bloomstone Development providing the city’s matching portion of the grant.