Havre Daily News
A study of a section of U.S. Highway 2 in eastern Montana will do something that a study of a section near Havre a few years ago did not: examine the economic conditions along the entire east-west corridor.
Montana Department of Transportation director Jim Lynch said the department will study the feasiblity of building four lanes on U.S. Highway 2 from Culbertson to the North Dakota state line, and on a section of Montana Highway 16 north from Culbertson to the Canadian border.
“It will take into account all of the economic conditions along Highway 2,” Lynch said in an interview Friday.
Lynch's announcement of the study at the Highway 2 Association's annual meeting Jan. 28 stirred the hopes of 4-for-2 proponents, who said the 2004 study of a 44-mile section east of Havre was incomplete because it lacked an economic analysis of the U.S. Highway 2 corridor in Montana. Association president Bob Sivertsen said the study could bolster efforts to build four lanes in other parts of the corridor. The study will use a 30-year traffic and freight model, focus on the possibility of building four lanes and compare it with a modern two-lane option.
It will account for existing, expanding and planned business operations, along with land use and development, Lynch said. That's in addition to traffic and safety information.
It will also consider the impacts associated with the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway, a part of the Great Plains International Trade Corridor stretching from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, to Monterrey, Mexico. The sections of U.S. Highway 2 and Montana Highway 16 have been designated a part of the expressway.
“It's an important link .... That's what we're hoping to play off on,” Lynch said. “There's a lot of activity on this corridor all the way to Canada. We're hoping to ride on some of that. As we move forward, we can look at it from a corridor standpoint.”
Lynch said the study will also consider safety concerns associated with the differences in speeds between freight traffic and personal vehicles. It will also consider agricultural traffic and increased volume due to gas and oil exploration.
Another planned study will look at U.S. Highway 2 from Culbertson to Glasgow. If the Culbertson-state line study shows positive results, the Glasgow study could take that information into account, Lynch said.
Last year, a federal highway bill set aside $10 million to study the Glasgow-to-North Dakota section of the roadway.
A 2004 federal environmental impactstatement written for the 44-mile section of Highway 2 between Havre and the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation did not consider the economic impact along the entire corridor.
Then-MDT Director Dave Galt had said he supported building four lanes in that section. He later withdrew his support when the EIS' findings were released.
The EIS concluded that an improved two-lane highway should be built in the section.
Lynch said he hopes the extra information may do more to support building four lanes from Culbertson to the state line.
“We already know from the Havre study that if we were to take a look at the road itself, it in itself would not support a four-lane highway,” he said.
Sivertsen said he is pleased that the study will consider the entire corridor instead of just one section.
“You don't get anything by looking at a small section,” he said. “We're excited about that.”
Sivertsen called the EIS for the Havre-to-Fort Belknap project “flawed and incomplete.” He said the administration of former Gov. Judy Martz opposed four lanes on U.S. Highway 2 from the very start.
“They had their minds made up when they went in to do the EIS,” Sivertsen said. “They went in there with the idea that ‘We're not going to build a four-lane.'”
He said the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway will act as a major boost for the four-lane option.
“That will become a main north-south trade corridor,” Sivertsen said. “Traffic will increase. Safety will play a big part in that.” The corridor will be a stimulant for the regional economy, he added.
The feasibility study is the first step in the process, Lynch said. If it shows support for a four-lane highway, the department will then ask the federal government to complete an EIS, a requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act.
MDT will hold public meetings in Glasgow or Culbertson beginning in March and continuing through the fall. The department plans to have the study completed by October, Lynch said. He said the public and business owners will be called on to present ideas and information.
“We need to have every single idea out on the table,” Lynch said. “This is really fast-tracked. Everybody is going to have to respond very quickly.”
Lynch said MDT will move forward with plans to build an improved two-lane section of the highway from Bainville to the state line, a project set to go to bid in January 2008. The project has been designed to allow for the eventual expansion to four lanes, he said.
Property along U.S. Highway 2 in the Bainville section and the Havre-to-Fort Belknap section has been purchased with federal money, with the aim of preserving right of way for a future four-lane expansion, Lynch said. He said the Federal Highway Administration allows for such purchases, as long as the landowner is agreeable to the sale.
On Friday, Lynch said he didn't know the exact amount of land purchased.
Sivertsen said 4-for-2 proponents have been frustrated thus far, but remain hopeful.
“There's a process that you have to follow, and we are committed to working with all parties to work through that process,” he said. “I believe that Jim Lynch is sincere when he expressed his support for 4 for 2, and we also believe that Governor Schweitzer is sincere, so that gives us a lot of hope.”
Schweitzer has said he supports building four lanes along Highway 2.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.