By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The draft document listing alternatives for rebuilding U.S. Highway 2 between Havre and Fort Belknap is out for public review, with the state Department of Transportation saying a four-lane highway is its preferred alternative and the Federal Highway Administration selecting a two-lane as its preferred alternative.
The draft environmental impact statement will be available for public review and comment through Aug. 13. After all comments are received, a final EIS will be completed and FHWA will issue its final decision on the configuration of the project.
Bob Sivertsen, president of the Highway 2 Association and a member of the citizens advisory committee created for the Havre-to- Fort Belknap project, said in May that he is confident supporters of a four-lane configuration can convince FHWA a four-lane highway is necessary.
Sivertson could not be reached for comment this morning.
In the EIS, MDT said a law passed by the 2001 Legislature required it to select a four-lane highway as its preferred alternative.
That law requires MDT to secure federal money to build a four-lane highway across Montana along the route of Highway 2.
FHWA said in the draft document that the two-lane configuration meets the requirements of the Montana law because if federal funding for the four-lane cannot be obtained, a two-lane is a workable alternative.
The Federal Highway Administration's preferred alternative is an improved two-lane configuration with intermittent passing and turning lanes. The agency said in the EIS that the two-lane configuration will meet the need identified for the project, with less environmental impact and with greater certainty of funding. The two-lane configuration could be funded through the standard MDT process, with other funds available to provide the passing and turning lanes, it said.
A four-lane configuration might be difficult to fund since the additional money would require special congressional approval, the federal highway agency said.
The EIS estimates a two-lane with passing lanes would cost $73.4 million.
A four-lane undivided highway would cost $94.5 million, with an extra $24.8 million required from Congress, the EIS estimated. A divided four-lane would cost $106.8 million, with Congress needing to fund an extra $37.1 million.
The purpose of the project is to provide an efficient highway to support economic vitality, reduce roadway deficiencies, improve safety and improve traffic operations, the EIS said.
A study done by ICF Consulting for David Evans and Associates, the firm writing the EIS, determined that the economic benefits of building a four-lane highway would not be enough to offset the extra cost.
ICF determined that the cost of building an improved two-lane highway would outweigh the economic benefits by a ratio of 1.9-to-1, and that the cost of building a two-lane with passing and turning lanes would outweigh the benefits by a ratio of 2-to-1. The cost-benefit ratio grows to 2.9-to-1 for an undivided four-lane and to 3.1-t0-1 for a divided four-lane.
The Highway 2 Association believes that finding is wrong and is having its own study done.
Public hearings on the EIS will be held at the Great Northern Inn in Havre from 6 to 8 p.m. on July 13; at the Chinook Motor Inn from 6 to 8 p.m. on July 14; in the bingo hall at Fort Belknap from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and at Harlem City Hall from 6 to 8 p.m on July 15.
Copies of the draft EIS are available in Havre at the Hill County Commission office, the Havre-Hill County Library, the MDT office on U.S. Highway 2 west of town, and the Montana State University-Northern Vande Bogart Library.
The EIS is available in Chinook at the Blaine County Commission office, the Blaine County Library and Sweet Memorial Nursing Home.
The EIS is available in Harlem at Harlem City Hall, Harlem Public Library, and Little Rockies Senior and Retirement Center.
It is also available on the Internet at: www.mdt.state.mt.us/environmental/eis-ea/.
Comments should be sent to Karl Helvik, Montana Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 201001, Helena, MT 59260-1001, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.