By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The consultants studying improving U.S. Highway 2 from Havre to Fort Belknap have identified three possible alternatives for the rural sections of the road.
Debra Perkins-Smith and Steve Long of David Evans and Associates, the firm hired by the Montana Department of Transportation to do an environmental impact statement for the project, presented the alternatives at a meeting in Havre Monday. The meetings continue today in Chinook and in Harlem and Fort Belknap on Wednesday
The purpose of the meetings is to present the alternatives identified to improve the highway, and to explain and collect feedback on the process being used to eliminate some alternatives and move on to the next phase of the EIS. That phase will closely examine the remaining alternatives, Perkins-Smith said.
The next round of meetings is expected to be late this summer, after the remaining alternatives are screened using detailed criteria, Perkins-Smith said.
The alternatives are an improved two-lane highway with intermittent passing, acceleration and deceleration zones; an undivided four-lane; and a divided four-lane highway.
Another alternative - an improved two-lane with wider driving lanes and shoulders - was eliminated after people in the audience said it would be unsafe and not meet another goal of an improved U.S. Highway 2 - improving the economy.
The consultants identified several options in Chinook and Harlem as well as the rural section.
Two alternatives that can't be used in Chinook are bypassing the town to the south and moving the railroad to the north, Long said.
Montana law requires that a town approve being bypassed, and the Chinook City Council passed a resolution opposing it, he said.
Moving the railroad is simply too expensive, Long said.
Other options are to put a four- or five-lane road through town, but that would require moving buildings, he said. Using two one-way streets through town is another alternative, Long said.
In Harlem, using one-way couplets on Lincoln Road or the old route of Highway 2 had to be eliminated as alternatives because they would place the highway too close to the railroad, Long said.
Alternatives for Harlem that the consultants are recommending to be studied are using a four-lane with a center turning lane on the current route, or moving the highway slightly south and creating a frontage road on the current route.
At Fort Belknap, several options are being discussed with the tribal leadership for improving the intersections with the routes from the Fort Belknap Agency.
The meeting tonight is from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Chinook Motor Inn. The meetings Wednesday are from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Fort Belknap bingo hall, and from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Harlem Senior Center.
Bob Sivertsen, president of the Highway 2 Association, said he hopes the study will take a broader view of the economic impact of the project. While it is only examining a 40-mile section of the highway, widening the entire highway will impact the economy of a large part of Montana, he said.
"I just wish that somehow we could bring a little more discussion, a little more facts and figures into the discussion," Sivertson said.