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Guest Column: Transportation Commission Update

 

June 6, 2018



About a year ago, I published an update in local papers about the plans by the Montana Department of Transportation to reconstruct the remaining 10 miles of US 2 between Chinook and Havre. This project, known as Lohman East & West, is still on schedule, with a bid letting date in the fall of 2019, and construction expected to begin in calendar year 2020. It remains the most expensive project in Transportation Commission District 3 in a five year period, and will have to be funded in two separate fiscal years. This project will replace the current 28 foot wide surface constructed in about 1948 with 40 foot wide surface in most places, including 8 foot shoulders and gentle slopes into the barrow pit. There will be two full five-lane passing zones, one west of the Milk River Bridge and one just west of Chinook.

As I concluded last year’s report, I mentioned that I am committed to getting the highway between Harlem and Chinook scheduled for reconstruction as soon as possible. That 20 miles contains some of the oldest, narrowest, and most dangerous roadway on US 2 east of Glacier Park. Because the terrain is as challenging as the Lohman East & West Project, and therefore as expensive per mile, the twenty miles between Chinook and Harlem has been divided into three different projects of approximately 6-7 miles in length so that we can fit each project, along with some federal highway safety funds, within the approximately $21 million per year available for National Highway System projects in District 3. Besides US 2, other major National Highway System highways in District 3 are US 87, Highway 200 east and west of Great Falls, and Highway 12 east and west of Helena.

The first of the three projects between Chinook and Harlem was approved by the Transportation Commission in the fall of 2016. Known as the East of Zurich – Harlem project, this project runs from milepost 417 to milepost 424 just west of Harlem. It is currently in the preliminary engineering phase and the survey is nearly completed. This project does not yet have a scheduled letting date, but should soon.

This February, the Commission approved the inclusion of the other two projects between Chinook and Harlem into the planning process. The first is Zurich – East & West from milepost 410-417, the second is Chinook East from milepost 404.1 to milepost 410. The plans are to design each of these projects with a full five-lane passing section.

The rule of thumb is that there is about a 10 year window between preliminary approval of a project and the date on which construction activity may commence. That is provided that the revenue stream continues at current levels and no other unexpected challenges arise. Hopefully, Congress will continue to fund our national highway system at current, or even improved levels, and at the current match rate favorable to Montana. These four projects on 30 miles of US 2 will consume, at least, half of the funds available for National Highway System projects in District 3 over a 10 year period. It goes without saying that there are several other sections of US 2, US 87, Highway 200 and Highway 12 that have needed reconstruction projects. For example, in February, we also approved a second section of US 87 between Great Falls and Carter for reconstruction.

Each year, in conjunction with our June meeting, the Transportation Commission tours important highway infrastructure in one of the Commission Districts. This year, the tour will be in District 3, and will be along the US 2 corridor from Havre to Harlem on June 20. We are still working on the details so that this tour will facilitate opportunities for the public to get further information on the four projects I have just described and to offer feedback and information to the Department and the Commission. The regular meeting of the Commission will be held the following morning on June 21 in Havre. Expect further public announcements about details soon.

 
 

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