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Billings celebrates opening of Inner Belt Loop/Skyway Drive connecting Heights and West End

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Posted at 10:01 PM, Jun 06, 2024

BILLINGS - The long-awaited Inner Belt Loop between the Billings Heights and the West End opened on Thursday afternoon.

The trail along the five-mile loop called Skyway Drive provides another safe route for walkers, runners, and bicycle riders.

INNER BELT LOOP MAP                                                               .jpg

The city hosted a ribbon cutting and celebration on Skyway, west of Alkali Creek Road.

Many at the ribbon cuttingdrove on the new road out to Highway 3 and Zimmerman Trail Road.

Then the other direction was opened and a group of bike riders celebrated the opening in the other direction, riding back to the Heights.

“When connected to the Skyline Trail and Alkali Creek Road, we'll have a 13 or so mile bike and pedestrian loop that might prove to be one of the most popular amenities in our community,” Mayor Bill Cole said at a celebration on Skyway, west of Alkali Creek Road.

And some of the first bike riders may already agree with the mayor.

“My wife and I like to ride along the Rims,” said Randy Jurat, the first bicyclist to ride on the trail after the ribbon cutting. “So this is a nice connection from the Heights to go down to Rims and back up Aronson Drive."

“We're safe from traffic here,” said Geoff Brown, who may be the first 100 percent man-powered cyclist on the trail after the ribbon cutting. “And the scenery between here and Skyview High School is just wonderful.”

And for the bike riders, it's a safe trail away from traffic.

“Connectivity from the Heights to the West End now, not only for cars but also for multimodal transportation,” said Mac Fogelsong, Billings city engineer. “We have the separate path.”

Fogelsong says the design process started in 2009 and the Inner Belt Loop will be faster in the event of an emergency and a quicker route for commuting.

“It's a very exciting day,” Fogelsong said.

A $5.3 million BUILD grant helped pay for the new road.

“The green spaces that we will preserve, the beautiful neighborhoods that can be built, the mixed-use development, architecturally glorious restaurants, entertainment, retail,” Billings city council member Jennifer Owen said as she looked to the future of the loop.

Rep. Larry Brewster, R-Billings, a former city councilman, started working on the project 35 years ago.

"It turned out way better than I thought it would,” said Brewster. “It's a beautiful drive. It's a beautiful project. And my comment about it is: Wow!"