The second of Madison Byways’ three sidewalk projects in Ennis is nearing completion. The group initially funded a sidewalk from Third Street downtown to the Lions Club Park, which was finished last year. The Golf Course Connection project, which will connect Ennis Schools with the golf course, began construction on April 9 and will be completed by June 15. The tentative start date for the third project, which will install sidewalks on all sides of the ‘Y’ where MT Highway 287 and U.S. Highway 287 intersect, is the summer of 2014.
“The idea for all three projects came from a lack of infrastructure in Ennis,” Madison Byways chair Lisa Roberts said. “We want to get people out and if they can’t even walk around town, we needed to start there.”
Roberts has been involved with Madison Byways since its inception in 2008 and was elected chair a few months ago. Roberts said the group initially wanted to develop a series of trails on the edges of Ennis, but quickly recognized a need for infrastructure downtown and began applying for federal grants to connect the community.
“[The projects] have multiple funding sources and that really makes them true community projects,” Roberts said. “All three projects combined will end up costing around $660,000.”
Madison Byways received money from Ennis Schools, Madison County, the Town of Ennis, private donations and federal grants, she explained. The current Golf Course Connection project is partially funded through a Safe Routes to School grant, administered through the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT).
“It’s all about getting kids safely to school,” she said. “It will benefit visitors too—getting them to the rodeo grounds, the golf course and tennis courts from town.”
Ennis Schools is completely funding the portion of sidewalk directly in front of the elementary school and Veterans Memorial. Superintendent John Overstreet said the decision came about because many kids walk or ride their bikes to and from school and the school wanted a safe, accessible route. He said he believes the Golf Course Connection project as a whole will benefit the school.
“Many families have moved to the golf course and many students live out there,” he said. “Now they bike on the highway or in the ditch. [The new sidewalk] will be a safe route to school and connects the golf course with the community better.”
The Safe Routes to Schools grant was recently combined with the County Transportation Enhancement Program (CTEP) to create the Transportation Alternative Program (TAP), which is run through the MDT. Madison Byways spearheaded an application—endorsed by the town—for a TAP grant to complete the third project—Sidewalks around the Y.
Madison Byways was awarded TAP funding but MDT will administer the project and Roberts said scheduling the actual construction is out of the group’s hands—MDT will handle it.
“They keep telling us [it will happen] this summer but they also keep telling us to be patient,” she said. “Our mission is to connect our community and that intersection really separates the town.”
Roberts said Madison Byways approached the town commission during an April 22 meeting to request an additional $9,600 to help cover “typical construction overages”—the town already contributed $21,500. Ennis mayor Becky Vujovich is no longer a Madison Byways board member, but initially helped found the group with her husband. Vujovich said the commission would conduct a final vote on the possible additional funds on May 15 at its next regular meeting.
“[Madison Byways] does the work most municipalities are doing, going after grants and creating infrastructure,” Vujovich said. “It’s not that they town doesn’t want to do it, it’s that we don’t have the capacity. Having a group like this is really rare and is a huge benefit to our community.”
Vujovich said the benefits of continuing to develop town infrastructure are numerous and far-reaching, a statement echoed by Roberts.
“There are so many great benefits,” Roberts concluded. “We are increasing the walkability of the town, which will directly increase the marketability of the town.”