By Tim Leeds
Sen. Sam Kitzenberg, who's leading the effort to widen U.S. Highway 2 to four lanes, said today he's less worried about the state Department of Transportation's commitment to the project.
Kitzenberg has previously accused the department of trying to circumvent Senate Bill 3, which directs the state to widen the highway unless doing so would jeopardize other state highway projects. But the Glasgow Republican said department director David Galt had a different tone when the two talked on the telephone Thursday night.
The two talked about getting together to review the department's draft interpretation of the bill. The draft was the subject of a meeting in Glasgow on Thursday of the state Transportation Commission. The commission took no action on the draft and asked that Kitzenberg and Galt get together to review it.
"I'm more optimistic than I was before the meeting," Kitzenberg said today.
Galt said today he wished he had had time earlier on to involve Kitzenberg in the writing of the draft. He said he supports the widening project.
"Dave Galt thinks the world of Sam Kitzenberg" and thinks Kitzenberg does a lot for the people on the Hi-Line, Galt said.
Galt said he believes the third section of the draft, which Kitzenberg objects to the most, will be extensively revised.
Section Three essentially states that unless additional money is provided by Congress, improvements to Highway 2 will be two-lane unless the state's road construction standards require four lanes. Senate Bill 3 prohibits the use of state money on a four-lane project for Highway 2 and also prohibits spending of federal money if that would harm other highway projects.
Lisa Vander Heiden, MDT spokeswoman, said Thursday that most federal highway money requires a state match, which SB 3 prohibits using to widen U.S. 2, so it would take a special appropriation from Congress to fund a four-lane project.
The MDT interpretation also states that current projects planned for U.S. 2, which are mostly two-lane at a 40-foot width, will continue as planned. Kitzenberg said he's a realist, he understands that five-year plans for construction were made before SB 3 passed and that it's hard to change those immediately without money.
Kitzenberg said if the MDT takes some actions that demonstrate good faith on the project, he will be more comfortable with the department's position on his bill. He said both Sens. Conrad Burns and Max Baucus have told him they think a total of $2 million for the project contained in Senate bills will pass. If MDT used some of that to purchase right of way and conduct studies on U.S. 2, that would go a long way toward satisfying him, he said.