Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The results of an informal survey of businesses show overwhelming support for widening U.S. Highway 2 to four lanes, the president of the Highway 2 Association said this week.
Bob Sivertsen also said an economic study the association is having done will do the same.
The association hired a consultant to review a study done for the Montana Department of Transportation about widening the highway between Havre and Fort Belknap, and hand-delivered surveys to businesses on Highway 2 from the eastern border of Montana to the western border, Sivertsen said.
"We are going to take a more futuristic approach to the four-laning of U.S. 2," Sivertsen said. The study will look at "the potential for industry and business in the corridor if it's established as an economic corridor between Minneapolis and Seattle. That's the key right there."
Sivertsen said he doesn't know how many surveys were handed out, because Highway 2 Association directors made their own copies and distributed them to businesses in their regions.
Of the 409 businesses that responded, 85 percent said widening Highway 2 to four lanes across the state would benefit their business, 8 percent had no opinion and 7 percent said they didn't think it would help. When responding to a question about whether widening the highway would attract new businesses to Montana, 90 percent said it would, 5 percent had no opinion and 5 percent didn't think it would.
When asked if they thought there is more opportunity for economic growth with four-lane highways, 89 percent of the respondents said they agreed or strongly agreed, 5 percent had no opinion and 6 percent disagreed.
When asked if good highways are important for economic growth, 98 percent said they were and 2 percent had no opinion or said they weren't.
Sivertsen said the report will be done by the time the EIS is ready for public comment, and the association will submit it and the results of the survey as public comments.
The EIS was to have been released this spring. David Evans and Associates, the consultant on the project, said a draft is still being reviewed by state and federal agencies and won't be ready for public distribution for several more months.
Sivertsen said he thinks the reason for the delay is so more economic factors weighing against a four-lane configuration can be included.
An economic study done by ICF Consulting for the EIS showed that a four-lane configuration between Havre and Fort Belknap would not provide significant economic benefits above those of rebuilding the highway to a wider two-lane configuration with intermittent passing lanes.
MDT released results in February of an analysis of widening Highway 2 across the state using a study done by Cambridge Systematics. The analysis showed that the economic benefits of widening the highway to four lanes would be outweighed by the additional cost of the widening, which was estimated at $1.2 billion when the Legislature passed a law requiring MDT to widen the highway.
The law, enacted by the 2001 Legislature, requires MDT to use federal money to widen the highway to four lanes across Montana, without requiring any state match and without using money the state allocated to other highway projects.
The Havre-to-Fort Belknap project was selected as the first area to study after Congress appropriated about $2 million for Highway 2 in 2001. MDT hired David Evans and Associates of Denver to write the EIS for the project.
Colleen Kirby Roberts, David Evans' planner for the Havre-to- Fort Belknap project, said additional time is needed for agencies to review the initial draft and make comments, then to incorporate those comments into the draft and make any necessary changes. David Evans has not yet received comments from all of the agencies involved in or having jurisdiction over the project, she said.
Sivertsen said he thinks the EIS will not recommend a four-lane configuration.
"I believe what is happening is that they are incorporating other studies into the EIS," he said, adding that he thinks the Cambridge Systematics study is one that will be incorporated.
Kirby Roberts said the Cambridge study will be briefly mentioned in the EIS, but its findings will not be incorporated.
She said the economic impact is just one of many factors that will be examined in the EIS.
The Highway 2 Association study will look at the impact of having a four-lane from Minneapolis to the West Coast, which Sivertsen said was the intent of the 2001 law.
Sivertsen said the ICF study is "flawed and incomplete" because it only looks at the 45-mile stretch, rather than looking at a four-lane corridor.