Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
After several years of trying, proponents of upgrading U.S. Highway 2 to a four-lane highway through Montana have received a victory in the state Legislature. Lawmakers have passed a bill by state Sen. Ken “Kim” Hansen, D-Harlem, to amend a law on that subject. Hansen said Thursday he proposed the bill to remove requirements he said reduced the chance for Highway 2 to be upgraded to four lanes. “I want Highway 2 to be on the same footing as every other highway in the state of Montana,” he said. Hansen’s bill removed special requirements on funding the 4 for 2 effort. The House of Representatives passed Hansen’s bill 77-23 Thursday. Rep. Julie French, D-Scobey, carried the bill in the House for Hansen. The Senate passed the bill 28-22 on Feb. 2. Bob Sivertsen, president of the Highway 2 Association, applauded Hansen’s work and the vote by the Legislature. He said the association, an advocate of widening the highway through the state, has tried unsuccessfully to amend the law every legislative session since it was Passed. “You just have to keep doing a little at a time and keeping people informed, working at it,” he said Thursday. “It pays off if you don’t give up.” Sivertsen said he has been in Helena lobbying in support of Hansen’s bill this legislative session. The issue started when former state Sen. Sam Kitzenberg, R-Glasgow, proposed a bill in 2001 directing the Montana Department of Transportation to widen the highway to four lanes throughout the state. In negotiations and compromises while trying to pass the bill, Kitzenberg agreed to amendments including requirements that the state seek federal money with no state match required to pay for widening the highway, and that four-lane projects could only be approved if they did not jeopardize other state highway projects. Hansen’s bill removes those stipulations, putting the highway projects on the same level as other state highway projects while still stating that the state Highway Commission may direct MDT to “construct a four-lane highway generally along the present route of U.S. Highway 2” across the entire state. The first project proposed under Kitzenberg’s bill failed to approve a four-lane configuration, although the latest project, starting at the North Dakota border, appears to be on track for that purpose. The first project, under the administration of former Gov. Judy Martz and MDT Director Dave Galt, who requested the amendments be put in Kitzenberg’s bill, looked at upgrading a highly travelled section. The study on the highway from Havre to the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, for which U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., acquired federal appropriations to pay for the study, recommended an improved two-lane highway for the section, with wider lanes and shoulders and intermittent passing and turning lanes. The first section of that project, including about 10 miles of highway east of Havre, is in the design phase at MDT. The latest project, tied into Congress’s designation of the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway as a high-priority corridor, proposes widening the highway to four lanes from the North Dakota border to Culbertson. 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. Gov. Brian Schweitzer has said creating that initial four-lane section will better justify continuing to widen the highway across the state. Schweitzer touted his support of 4 for 2 in both his campaign for governor in 2004 and in his bid for re-election last year. Sivertsen said Thursday the Highway 2 Association will continue to work with MDT Director Jim Lynch and Montana’s congressional delegation to widen the highway. “We just have to keep working a segment at a time, so that’s what we will continue to do,” he said.