By Alan Sorensen
Eight times as many people live in the population centers along Interstate 90 of southern Montana as live in the population pockets along U.S. Highway 2 in the north.
Travel miles along the southern route, however, are barely triple those in the north. And over the past two recorded years, U.S. 2, also known as the Hi-Line, accounted for more than half as many traffic accidents and fatalities as I-90.
According to statistics provided to The Daily News by Jack Williams of the Montana Highway Patrol in Helena, 29 people were killed in traffic accidents on U.S. Highway 2 in 1999 and 2000. During those same two years, 57 people were killed in I-90 accidents. Nearly 2,000 accidents were recorded on U.S. Highway 2 in those two years, 1997. At that same time, 3,319 accidents occurred on I-90.
Total driver miles on those two highways for those two years were provided to The Daily News by MHP traffic flow expert Dan Bison of Helena.
U.S. 2, which extends about 665 miles across the state's north tier, had a total of 1,455,835 driver miles as recorded by the state's continuous counters along the route. I-90's 546-mile path across Montana and down into Wyoming provided for 4,488,110 traveler miles.
U.S. 2 from North Dakota to Idaho, with only a third of the driver miles of I-90, accounts for more than half as many accidents and half as many fatalities. The most startling statistic, however, is the total number of injuries sustained in traffic accidents on the state's two major east/west arteries. U.S. 2 and I-90 accounted for nearly the same number of accident injuries during 1999 and 2000.
In 1999, 655 people were injured and 10 people were killed in Hi-Line accidents. On I-90 that year, 786 people were injured and 26 were killed. In 2000, U.S. 2 had 742 injuries and 19 fatalities. I-90 had 739 injuries and 31 fatalities.
Speculation about the impact a two-lane rather four-lane highway has on accident, injury and fatality statistics has been used in arguing for interstate and multilane routes throughout the country. Whether U.S. 2 has more accidents, injuries and deaths due to having just two instead of four lanes has yet to be determined.
The argument that more people live and work along the southern route is indisputable.
In the latest edition of the World Almanac 2001 and Book of Facts (World Almanac Books), I-90 includes eight cities of more than 5,000 people each. They are Anaconda with about 10,000; Belgrade with 5,000; Billings, 92,000; Bozeman, 30,000; Butte, 34,000; Laurel, 6,000; Livingston, 7,500; Missoula, 63,000.
U.S. 2 has three Kalispell, 16,000; Havre, 10,000; Whitefish, 6,000 and two of those are in the far north western corner of the state.
The eight cities on I-90 account for about 247,000, those on the Hi-Line, 32,000.
That the people who live, work and travel along I-90 are more valuable than those who live, work and travel along U.S. Highway 2 is false.