By Dan Testa, 4-15-11
||Caption: A U.S. Highway 93 Bypass sign is seen on Three Mile Drive. - File photo by Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
With the southern portion of the Kalispell bypass seeing steady traffic – along its roadway and recreational path – attention is now turning to the completion of the northern portion. A public meeting Monday in Kalispell drew more than 100 residents to discuss design changes to the northern portion of the bypass, also known as the U.S. 93 Alternate Route.
The Montana Department of Transportation is currently accepting comments until May 11 on suggested changes to the northern section of the route. At the recent meeting, discussion chiefly revolved around the planned junction at Two Mile Drive. Current plans call for the bypass to follow an underpass beneath Two Mile Drive, with no intersection there, according to Ed Toavs, MDT’s Missoula District Construction Engineer.
But some at the meeting called for a roundabout instead. Toavs said a roundabout could also save money, estimating the cost of a roundabout at $500,000-$700,000, as opposed to a crossover bridge that could have a price tag as high as $3 million. He noted that the instability of the soil there would require “pretty significant geotechnical methods” to stabilize a bridge – similar to the steps engineers took to stabilize the banks of Ashley Creek on the southern portion to build the bridge there.
But Toavs said changing the current bypass plan – chiefly by adding an intersection at Two Mile Drive – would require resubmitting portions of the environmental application.
“That’s a significant change,” Toavs said. “If it’s decided to change that, we have to reevaluate the environmental document.”
He anticipates a decision on a roundabout at Two Mile Drive will be made this year, based largely on the comments MDT receives from the public.
Even then, however, the entire right-of-way for the bypass is not yet purchased: Three parcels in the Two Mile Drive area remain in the hands of private landowners. Toavs said purchasing those parcels is dependent upon determining a final design plan for the bypass northern portion. MDT intends to have a final design worked out by the end of the year.
Jim Lynch, MDT’s director, said ongoing funding for the northern section will be contained in the federal highway bill, which should pass by the end of the year. Until then, the level of funding for the project won’t be clear.
Once construction on the northern section does begin, MDT will attempt to build a two-lane roadway along the length of the route, before eventually expanding it to four lanes, similar to the procedure for the first half of the bypass. Lynch intends to have a phase of the northern section underway for construction season in 2012.
“We’re hoping that we’re going to have enough funding so we can have a project on the bypass every construction season,” Lynch said.
But Lynch also emphasized that the construction of a road behind the Hutton Ranch shopping plaza connecting with Reserve Drive is a part of the overall bypass project. That road is aimed at relieving traffic congestion at the corner of Reserve and U.S. 93 when the bypass roadway is completed. Kalispell City Council recently voted to approve the state’s construction plans.
MDT is currently negotiating with Flathead Valley Community College officials on a key piece of land, but Lynch anticipates construction getting underway this summer.
“We’re hoping we can get things resolved with the college,” Lynch said. “Right now, that’s all we’re waiting on.”
To comment on construction of the U.S. 93 alternate route, send mail to Doug Moeller, Missoula District Administrator, P.O. Box 7039, Missoula, MT 59807-7039 or visit mdt.mt.gov/mdt/comment_form.shtml.
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