Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
After seven years of trying, the first project to widen U.S. Highway 2 to four lanes in Montana a 22-mile stretch from the North Dakota border to Culbertson has received federal approval, Montana Department of Transportation Director Jim Lynch told Haverites Tuesday, during an appreciation barbecue in Town Square for the US-2 Havre construction crews. Bob Sivertsen, president of the Highway 2 Association, said he and the association members are pleased. “The association’s goal has always been to get the project started and then keep building, one segment at a time,” he said. An environmental assessment of the project found no significant impact of building a four-lane configuration, giving federal approval to move forward with the project. “This is exciting for the folks that have long waited for action on the 4 for 2 project,” Gov. Brian Schweitzer said in a press release about the finding. “We are pleased today to take an important first step in moving the expansion of Highway 2 forward.” Lynch said this morning that the finding is just the first step. “This is a very important step to allow us to start moving forward with a four-lane configuration,” he said. Lynch said the next step is to start the design phase of the project, then to seek funding for actual work on the highway. The issue started in 2001, when Sen. Sam Kitzenberg of Glasgow proposed a bill directing MDT to widen Highway 2 to four lanes throughout Montana. In negotiations, the bill was amended to ensure that no state funds would be used for the project MDT was required to find special federal appropriations to do the work. The first project proposed after the 2001 Legislature passed the bill was to widen the highway from Havre to Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, one of the busiest segments of Highway 2 in Montana. That proposal, started under the administration of Gov. Judy Martz with MDT Director David Galt, failed after an extensive study resulted in the environmental impact statement recommending a two-lane configuration with wider shoulders and intermittent turning and passing lanes instead. That project is currently in the design stage. For the Culbertson to North Dakota project, a different focus was used creating a high-priority corridor. In 2005, the U.S. Congress designated the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway, which includes the Culbertson to North Dakota segment, 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. Schweitzer has said getting approval to widen the segment of Highway 2 to four lanes could lead to future projects to widen the highway. The existing fourlane segment could be used to justifyNew projects by creating connectivity between communities and regions, he said. Lynch said that is not certain, however. While the environmental study for the Culbertson to North Dakota project found no significant impact, each proposed project will have to be studied individually. “This came back with no significant impacts,” Lynch said. “As we move forward and expand other sections of Highway 2 across the state, a four-lane configuration will be a consideration. The environmental finding will drive the process.” Sivertsen, who has long advocated widening the highway as an important component of economic growth he cites studies showing that 80 percent of businesses locate near four-lane highways as well as increasing the safety on the highway, said the association’s goal is to continue pushing for widening U. S. 2 in other areas. “Everyone in the corridor should be pleased because there is a new beginning, a renewed hope,” Sivertsen said.