A four-lane U.S. Highway 2 would bring more tourists onto the Hi-Line, and the tourists would spend more money here. That was the agreement of civic and economic development leaders attending the annual Highway 2 Association meeting in Malta Saturday. But there was emphasis on several other advantages of a four-lane highway during the all-day session. The 9-year-old organization, which has representatives from all Hi-Line counties, Indian reservations and Alberta, advocates making the highway into a four-lane road across Montana, such as it is through most of North Dakota. A four-lane Highway 2 "could bring opportunities to the Hi-Line and help build bridges to our neighbors to the north," said Malta Mayor Shyla Jones. "We're dependent on tourism. We have many draws in Phillips County, and we a need a four-lane highway to bring people here." "Highway 2 is a vital corridor for northern Montana," said Carla Hunsley of Missouri River Country, a tourism development program for northeast Montana. Although Glacier National Park remains the most popular tourist attraction in northern Montana, the dinosaur museums, historic forts and bird trails of the north-central and northeastern areas are attracting visitors from around the country, but people have a hard time getting here, tourism experts said. Several economic development experts at the meeting stressed that the four-lane highway would be a benefit not only to tourism, but to other development projects. The highway is part of a roadway system that serves the mountain states, Alberta and Saskatchewan. "Certainly there is tourism, but there is also energy, agriculture and light manufacturing that would benefit," said Cal Klewin of Bowman, N.D, the executive director of the Teddy Roosevelt Expressway. Joe Kiley, deputy city manager of Limon, Colo., and vice president of the Ports-to-Plains Coalition, described a widened Highway 2 as part of a highway system that will help bring goods from Alberta and the northern mountain states south as far as Mexico. Participants at the session quoted a blog in which a Montana woman said that the company she worked for sent five semis full of frozen foods to Mexico the week before, and her company hired five new people as a result. Having a vital highway system is critical to maintaining that kind of trade, Kiley said. Seven states and Alberta are members of Ports-to-Plains, he said. In addition to coordinating efforts, the seven states — most of them sparsely populated — have increased their political clout in Washington, D. C., by uniting. The group has helped obtain $1 billion in federal highway funds, he said. "Why doe s i t mat t e r ? Because this is the most important energy corridor in the world," he said. Widening Highway 2 and extending the hours at Canadian ports of entry would make traveling easier for massive equipment headed north to the rich Alberta oilfields. "If we are going to be selfsufficient with energy and food, this area counts," he said. Bill McCauley a Cut Bank businessman, lamented the fact that if you want to travel to Washington state, many Internet mapping services will route you to Missoula, so you can get on intestates. "How much longer will that take you?" Asked Havre City Councilman Bob Kaul. Getting funding for the widened highway has not been easy, supporters said. Henry Headdress of Fort Peck, the newly elected association vice president, said he has been getting the run-around from state officials about money for making the highways in and around the reservation four lane. And Kiley said state and federal officials often use traffic counts as an excuse for not making improvements to highways. "We keep hearing they don't want to to expand it because there is not enough traffic," said Len Mitzel, a member of the Alberta Legislature, who says his province would benefit from having Highway 2 widened. "You continue to fight the traffic count thing," Kiley said. "If you expanded to four lanes, a lot more people would use it." Still, association members were optimistic about the longrange efforts. "Every day, we get more support," said Bob Sivertsen, who was re-elected association president. Gary Wilson of Havre, president of the Fort Assiniboine Preservation Association, said this wouldn't be the first time the Hi-Line had to fight to get its fair share. "If you go back in history ... it always took every community in the Hi-Line to work together to push Washington," he said. "The good thing is, we are working together."
Highway 2 project: It’s more than tourism, experts say
Published: Monday, March 1st, 2010
Click Here To See More Stories Like This