A road leading from Havre north to Canada was the topic of discussion at a meeting in Helena Wednesday, with the Great Falls administrator for the Montana Department of Transportation saying he will meet with local officials in weeks to come to see if there is some way to expedite improvements to the highway.
“I’m going to visit with city and county officials, throw our collaborative heads together and see what we can come up with, ” Great Falls MDT Administrator Mick Johnson said this morning.
Havre City Council member Bob Kaul, also a member of the group working to upgrade the Port of Wild Horse at the end of Montana Secondary Highway 232, set up the meeting with Johnson and MDT Director Tim Reardon.
Hill County Commission Chair Mike Wendland, Havre Mayor Tim Solomon and Highway 2 Association President Bob Sivertson — all members of the Wild Horse working group — attended the meeting in Helena, and Hill County Commissioners Kathy Bessette and Jeff LaVoi and Hill County Road and Bridge Department Supervisor Jerry Otto participated via telephone.
Kaul stressed in an interview Thursday that the meeting was about the highway, not the border port.
“It was a Highway 232 discussion, that’s all it was, ” he said.
Kaul said improving the highway has been a priority of the commission since work to upgrade State Secondary Highway 234 — Beaver Creek Highway — was completed early last decade.
“I was very pleased with the results of the meeting, ” Kaul said. “I feel it’s one of the most productive meetings we’ve had in a long time. ”
He said he agreed with a suggestion by Johnson that work on the first 24 miles of highway should be done in sections.
“In order to go up there and try to do that 24 miles in today’s standards, it would cost 24 million dollars, ” Kaul said, “and we just don’t have 24 million dollars, and neither does MDT, and right now the way funding out of Washington, D.C., is coming, I don’t think there’s 24 million dollars in Washington, D.C., either
Johnson said the portion of the highway closest to Havre was built using old standards and is narrow with extremely deep, steep shoulders.
The portion from 1st Street to the top of the hill going out of North Havre was built in 1936, with the portion from the edge of town to mile marker 18 built from 1950-1958, he said.
“It’s just a narrow, rural road, ” he said.
The portion closer to the border was built later, in projects in 1962, 1964 and 1966, and has wider lanes and flatter shoulders, Johnson said.
He said MDT has been looking at work that could be done, especially the intersection where Montana Secondary Highway 233 splits off. While the cost-benefit ratio is low, there are some projects that could be done, Johnson said, but their priority has not pushed them to the top of the list yet.
He will talk to the local officials to see if there is some way to get some work done sooner.
“We’re going to get together and come up with some type of agreement to try to do some things, ” Johnson said.
Kaul said the connection of upgrading the highway to upgrading the port of entry was raised at the meeting. He cited increased traffic over the last several years as one need for improving the highway.
Solomon said he also thought the meeting went well, including discussions of the county and state working together.
“Some ideas come out of it that the commissioners and county shop are going to have to visit with and see if it’s feasible, ” he said.
He said he will stay involved in the discussions. Both the safety of the road and the connection to Wild Horse make the improvements a very high priority, he said.
“It’s kind of like the chicken and the egg, ” he added. “You push for a 24-hour port, but you hate to put too much traffic on a road that’s not safe for trucks, and passenger traffic, too.
“It’s hard to get the traffic up if you need improvements on the road, but you need to improve the traffic to justify improving the road, ” Solomon said.