By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Montana Department of Transportation and its consultant is ready to present a list of alternatives for improving U.S. Highway 2 between Havre and Fort Belknap.
A series of public meetings will be held in two weeks on the alternatives.
"The process is you get everything on the table that everyone has suggested," said Colleen Kirby of David Evans and Associates, the firm that's preparing an environmental impact statement for the project.
The meetings are in Havre on May 5, Chinook on May 6, and Fort Belknap and Harlem on May 7.
A bill passed by the 2001 Legislature directed MDT to seek federal funds to widen Highway 2 to four lanes across Montana.
The first section being considered is the 40-mile stretch between Havre and Fort Belknap.
Federal law says an EIS must be prepared for any highway construction using federal funding that could impact the environment.
A study by the consultants will identify improvements that increase safety and efficiency on the highway, and will look at the economic, social and environmental impacts of the alternatives.
A Web site built for the project lists five alternatives for rural sections of the highway, plus five for the highway east of Havre, five through Chinook, and 10 alternatives for aligning the highway.
Each set of alternatives starts with a "no build" option, which is a requirement of the EIS process, Kirby said.
"That doesn't mean we are going to go in and do nothing. It's a baseline," she added.
Most of the alternatives listed are from suggestions made by people at public meetings and community workshops last fall, although some were identified by David Evans and MDT.
Kirby said that all identified alternatives will be presented at the meeting, even though MDT and David Evans know that some cannot go forward.
For example, one suggestion was a new route for the highway that bypasses Chinook and Harlem. The Chinook City Council has passed a resolution opposing that, so it cannot go forward, Kirby said. Montana law prohibits highway reconstruction from bypassing a town unless the town specifically requests it.
The alternatives identified for rural sections include having an improved two-lane highway with wider driving lanes and shoulders, a two-lane with an intermittent passing lane, an undivided four-lane or a divided four-lane.
The alternatives for construction in Chinook include three lanes with limited on-street parking, four narrow lanes with no on-street parking, and four or five lanes with parking.
The last two options would require that buildings be removed or moved to make space for the lanes, Kirby said.
The alternatives for aligning the highway include shifting the highway as far south as necessary at railroad crossings to meet MDT's required distance and using two one-way streets to route traffic through Chinook or Harlem.
The next step in the EIS process is screening the alternatives to see which meet the purposes of increasing safety and maintaining economic vitality in the area.
Some of the alternatives that will be presented at the meetings have already been screened out, Kirby said. The purpose of the meetings is to present and explain the alternatives, explain the screening process and ask what people think about the alternatives and the screening process.
Kirby said the comments on the screening process can affect the decisions. For example, if an alternative has been screened out because of its cost but people say the alternative should still go forward, David Evans and MDT would reconsider the alternative, she said.
A draft EIS evaluating the alternatives will be issued next fall. After people have had the opportunity to review and comment on the draft, a public hearing will be held.
After the review of the draft EIS, the consultants will write a final EIS early in 2004. The Federal Highway Administration will make its decision on what configuration and alignment the highway will follow based on the EIS.
The final recommendation could include a variety of the alternatives identified at different parts of the project, Kirby said.
The May 5 meeting will be from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Great Northern Inn in Havre, and the May 6 meeting runs from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Chinook Motor Inn. The first meeting on May 7 runs from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the bingo hall in Fort Belknap, and the second will be 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Little Rockies Senior and Retirement Center in Harlem.
On the Net: Havre to Fort Belknap construction project: www.ushwy2.com