By BOB ANEZ/Associated Press Writer
HELENA - Sen. Sam Kitzenberg has not given up his four-year fight for a four-lane highway carved across Montana's Hi-Line.
The Glasgow Republican is back with a bill in the 2005 Legislature that would forbid the state from building anything but a four-lane road through what he and other advocates see as one of the most economically stagnant regions of the state.
Kitzenberg said Friday the measure is a point-blank effort to halt a plan by the state Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration to improve the two-lane highway with a wider version that includes turning lanes. The initial project would be a heavily traveled 45-mile stretch between Havre and Fort Belknap.
''If we're going to go to two lanes with passing lanes, you might as well close down Havre and the rest of the towns along the Hi-Line,'' Kitzenberg said. ''When you don't have four lanes, you don't have economic development.
''We want to survive; that's still the basic issue,'' he added. ''It's a kiss of death, a two-lane highway.''
Kitzenberg began leading the charge for a four-lane highway across northern Montana in the 2001 Legislature. He persuaded lawmakers to pass a bill requiring construction of a four-lane U.S. 2, but only if federal money could be found that would not affect other highway projects in the state.
An environmental study favored the expanded two-lane option, which would cost about a fourth less than a $107 million four-lane road. Former Gov. Judy Martz endorsed the plan last fall, but her successor, Brian Schweitzer, has said he supports an eventual four-lane highway.
Kitzenberg said he is concerned that allowing work to proceed on a two-lane project will doom any chances for the more extensive project he and many others want along the route.
Kitzenberg sees his bill as putting pressure on federal highway officials to abandon a two-lane plan. ''Nothing will happen until they reverse their decision,'' he said.
If his proposal fails, he is ready with a backup measure that would authorize construction of a four-lane highway complete with toll booths to pay the state's share of it.
Jim Lynch, state transportation director, said he had not yet seen Kitzenberg's proposal but has some concerns after the lawmaker explained it to him.
''It raises some questions because we have highways already designed and ready to go to construction,'' he said. ''We wouldn't want his bill to jeopardize projects already in the works.''
Lynch cited two $13 million projects on U.S. 2 that could be derailed if Kitzenberg's measure were to pass.
He emphasized that, like Schweitzer, he is fan of eventually transforming U.S. 2 into four lanes.
''I understand his (Kitzenberg's) concern and his position and why he thinks a four lane is vital to the economic vitality of the Hi-Line,'' Lynch said. ''If I cannot support his bill, it doesn't mean I don't support a four-lane highway.''
The bill is Senate Bill 306.