Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The Montana Department of Transportation is moving forward with an eastern Montana project related to an issue that has had a high profile in north-central Montana in the last six years: widening U.S. Highway 2 to four lanes across the state. “We’re sitting right at the gateway of a lot of opportunity and we need to seize the moment,” said Bob Sivertsen, president of the Highway 2 Association. MDT is holding public meetings on Monday and Tuesday in Culbertson and Bainville, respectively, to discuss a plan to widen Highway 2 to four lanes from Culbertson to the North Dakota border. MDT Director Jim Lynch said this is the first step in an environmental assessment process to determine impacts on widening the highway. In 2001, the Montana Legislature passed a law proposed by Glasgow state Sen. Sam Kitzenberg directing MDT to find federal money to widen Highway 2 to four lanes across the state. The first project proposed under the law, widening the highway from Havre to the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, came back with A decision to turn the highway into a “Super 2,” with wider traffic lanes and shoulders and intermittent passing and turning lanes. Construction on the first section of that improvement, from Havre to 10 miles east of town, is expected to start within four or five years. Lynch said the process for justifying a four-lane at Culbertson has gone differently. The project is tied into Congress in 2005 designating the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway a high priority corridor. The Expressway runs from the Port of Raymond north of Culbertson to Rapid City, S.D., which links to other corridors running down to Laredo, Texas, creating a route from the Gulf of Mexico port to Canada. A study of the expressway with a final report issued in April justifies building the four-lane section of Highway 2 to North Dakota, Lynch said. The purpose of the meetings is to gather public comments specific to the proposed project along U.S. 2, and to outline the process and timeline for the analysis required by the national and Montana Environmental Policy Acts. HKM Engineering Inc. has been hired to conduct the environmental analysis and prepare the environmental assessment for the proposed project, and will be at the meetings to take public comments. MDT staff will also be available to discuss the proposed project. In a recent interview, Gov. Brian Schweitzer said the key to widening the highway is connectivity. The traffic on Highway 2 doesn’t rise to the level the federal government requires to justify a four-lane highway, but connecting to Highway 2 in North Dakota, which has already been widened to four lanes to Williston, will justify the expansion, he said. Once the first section is widened in Montana, connecting to that can be used to justify widening more sections, Schweitzer said. Lynch said MDT’s initial hope was to follow a simpler process of a categorical exclusion to study the Culbtertson to North Dakota project, but some concerns raised by residents and some agencies that will be involved required conducting an environmental assessment, he said. If no more major concerns are raised, the assessment could come back with a decision to build the highway. If more concerns are raised, the assessment could require the state to conduct a more complex environmental impact statement, Lynch said. Sivertsen said it is crucial for people to participate in the public meetings and study process. “We need to keep talking about it, we need the people to take a greater interest,” he said. “ If we, the people, don’t care, why should we expect our congressional delegation, our governor, our lawmakers to care?” The first meeting is at the Bainville School at 409 Tubman in Bainville at 6 p.m. Monday, with a meeting at 6 p. m. at the Culbertson High School at 432 First Ave. W. in Culbertson on Tuesday. MDT has also invited people to submit comments by mail to Darryl James with HKM Engineering Inc. at P.O. Box 1009, Helena, MT 59624 or online at www.mdt.gov/ mdtcomment_form.shtml, including the note that comments are for project CN 6388. The deadline for comments is Jan. 3, 2008. For more information on the project, contact Darryl James of HKM Engineering at (406) 442-0370 or Kraig McLeod of MDT at (406) 444-6256. For more information on the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway study, contact Hal Fossum at (406) 444-6116, or download the study at www. Mdt.mt.gov/pubinvolve/ us2tred.