Jackrabbit Lane cross

Traffic rolls by an American Legion cross on Jackrabbit Lane this winter. A sidewalk will be built along the route next spring by Town Pump from Madison Avenue to Main Street. The Belgrade City Council declined a waiver sought by Town Pump in January to build the sidewalk along its property on Jackrabbit Lane.

Navigating the stretch of Jackrabbit Lane between Madison and Main will become easier for pedestrians sooner than it will for motorists, according to those in charge of planned improvements along the corridor.

Town Pump just finished design plans for a sidewalk it will build along the west side of Jackrabbit between Madison Avenue and Main Street, an improvement the city required upon issuing a building permit for expansion of the company’s gas station and casino on the northwest corner of Jackrabbit and Madison.

The Belgrade City Council in January denied the company’s request to waive the sidewalk requirement, despite Town Pump’s argument that it would likely be torn out when the state proceeded with its plans to widen Jackrabbit between Madison and Main from three to five lanes. Belgrade’s Planning Director Jason Karp said then that state officials believed the sidewalk could be preserved at the time of a future highway project, provided it is installed “in the proper location and grade as approved by (the state).”

“We designed it as best we could,” Joe Murphy, a consulting engineer for Town Pump, told the Belgrade News this week. He said the plans have been submitted to the state, and final approval of the project is expected within the next couple of weeks. Town Pump spokesman Bill McGladdery said the sidewalk’s construction is planned for next spring.

William Fogarty, district administrator for the Montana Department of Transportation, said the state intends to preserve the sidewalk when the widening project commences, though he stopped short of making any guarantees. However, he said it will be at least six or seven years before anybody has to worry about that.

Fogarty explained that a request to change the scope of work of the so-called Belgrade Urban Project will be heard later this month by the department’s Transportation Committee. Originally the project was limited to widening of Jackrabbit between Madison and Main from three to five lanes, but Fogarty said a tremendous amount of public sentiment was expressed about the need to address the root cause of traffic bottlenecks there – the railroad crossing north of Main.

The department now is recommending the addition of a railroad underpass to the project. If the Transportation Committee approves the change, design work will begin and the project will be put into the queue for addition to MDT’s five-year plan.

Fogarty said the Belgrade Urban Project could be added to the five-year timeline as early as October 2021, meaning the construction would begin in 2026 at the earliest. If the project doesn’t make it into the five-year plan next year, that date will be pushed out further.

Decisions about which projects to add to the plan are driven by scheduling considerations and available funding, Fogarty said. MDT estimates the Belgrade Urban Project will cost between $15 million and $20 million.