Havre Daily News
The push to bring four lanes to U.S. Highway 2 isn't finished.
Highway 2 Association president Bob Sivertsen said Monday that there has been a lot of “behind-the-scenes” activity, and association members and residents can learn more by attending the group's annual meeting, set for Jan. 28 in Glasgow.
Montana Department of Transportation director Jim Lynch will provide an update on efforts to turn improvement projects along the highway into four-lane upgrades, and a four-person panel will discuss economic development along the corridor, Sivertsen said.
Sivertsen said it is important that Montana follow in the footsteps of North Dakota, which is scheduled to finish its last four-lane upgrade - about 100 miles - of U.S. Highway 2, from Williston to west of Minot, in 2008.
“They're waiting for us to follow their lead, so that we will be one step closer to establishing an economic corridor between Minneapolis and Seattle,” Sivertsen said. “If and when we get to that point, you will see these (Hi-Line) communities flourish.”
Sivertsen pointed to recent economic development in Havre, including the coming addition of two motels, increased oil and gas exploration, and an expanded U.S. Customs and Border Protection presence. He said 80 percent of new or expanding business in the country is located in or near communities with four-lane highways.
“If we are to share in the economic prosperity of this country, of which our politicians talk about all of the time, we have to have an adequate transportation system to be in the running when businesses decide to expand, locate or relocate,” he said. “Four for 2 is not the sole solution to the economic woes of communities in the corridor, but it is the first step. Without it, we will not share in that economic prosperity.
“We have such an opportunity here to give these communities a shot in the arm,” he added.
Bear Paw Development Corp. planning director Craig Erickson will be one of three panelists at the annual meeting. He said today that while no one can know for certain what kind of impact a four-lane highway would have on the area, he shares the association's belief that it would make the Hi-Line more competitive in attracting new business, traffic and tourism.
“We do talk with businesses who want to have access to an interstate-type transportation system,” he said.
Erickson said he will highlight recent economic development, including the construction of a proposed Wal-Mart, plans to build a special events center and a visitor/cultural center at the Hill County Fairgrounds, and other new construction.
Joining Erickson will be Tom Rolfstad of Williston Economic Development, who will discuss the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway. The trade route was approved by Congress last year and will connect Canada to Mexico. A portion of the 2,236-mile corridor will pass through Culbertson en route to the Port of Raymond.
Sivertsen also said a four-lane highway on the Hi-Line would improve safety by providing extra room for agricultural equipment. He said trucking companies would benefit from travel along Montana's northern tier.
“You do not have the ups and downs that they have on the southern route,” he said. “There is a cost savings, time-wise, fuel-wise, if they travel this northern route.”
Sivertsen said the association has been working with Lynch and Gov. Brian Schweitzer to see if the Federal Highway Administration will reconsider a 2003 environmental impact statement, which determined that upgrading U.S. Highway 2 to four lanes between Havre and Fort Belknap would not be cost-effective.
“There has been a lot going on, and that's why we're so pleased director Lynch will be at our annual meeting to bring everybody up to date on what's been happening in the corridor,” he said.
Sivertsen said that pushing the possible economic benefits of a four-lane highway along the Hi-Line could be key in getting the federal government to reconsider the study.
He added that he is confident that 4 for 2 can happen, with the continued support of the governor's office and MDT.
The annual meeting will be held at the Cottonwood Inn, beginning at 10 a.m.