By Martin J. Kidston
Sixty-plus citizens grew angry Tuesday night at city hall as Department of Transportation officials from Great Falls and Helena told them they were going to fence off Beaver Creek Park and widen the road.
The DOT hopes to reduce collisions between cattle and cars, which comprise 27 percent of all accidents in the park. Another 52 percent are caused by young drivers, and most of them are alcohol related.
The project, according to the DOT, is intended to increase the roads drivability and safety. At the same time, however, it will enable more vehicles to travel through the park at higher speeds. It wasnt what the people wanted to hear, and many wondered how higher speeds would reduce accidents. Whats more, the DOT plans on placing a fence down both sides of the road to separate cattle and cars. Inevitably, many envisioned a park with limited access, and people, like cows, forced to use the many gates and cattle guards the DOT will install.
As citizens decried the entire notion, the DOT pushed on and said it was a done deal, and they were simply following the law.
The only way to avoid the fence is to have the county retract its request for the project and turn away the states $5 million offer to fix this road, Department of Transportation Project Design Manager Mike Langenfus said.
The comment put county commissioners on the spot, and Hill County Commissioner Pat Conway took up the projects defense.
The county asked the state to take over the secondary status of this road, because the county knew it couldnt maintain the road, Conway said. The reason we picked this project, and labeled it our top priority, is because we felt that the road was going the dogs, to put it plainly.
Conway said the project isnt a spontaneous decision made by the county, but rather, one the Park Board has discussed monthly for the past five years.
We feel this is an essential project, Conway said. I would hate to think that after all this work, we would even think about pulling the project.
Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette sided with Conway in defending the Beaver Creek Road project.
Where does a pothole end and serious road problems begin? she asked the audience. We just dont have the money to repair these roads. The offer of $5 million is more than our entire county budget combined. Of course I have mixed emotions about it, but I want that road fixed. It needs to be repaired.
We as the Hill County Commissioners have emphatically tested this fencing thing, and it continually comes back to the law.
But the commissioners diligence didnt make it throughout the room, and disgruntled citizens made it clear that they dont want the fence.
Through the dissension, Highway Patrolman Mark Bosch stood and calmly suggested that the county try to gain an exemption for the fencing project by going through Congress.
The project wont be let until mid-year in 2001. Right? Congress convenes in January that year. It gives us time. So why dont we ask them to exempt the park from fencing?
His comment was noted.
According to DOT statistics, 530 cars use Beaver Creek Road on a daily basis. Route 234 is considered an urban road, funneling traffic into the city of Havre. By the year 2021, it is anticipated that 670 cars will use the road on a daily basis.