By Tim Leeds
Bob Sivertsen from north of Chinook and John Brenden of Scobey are working to rally support for Senate Bill 3.
SB3, sponsored by Sen. Sam Kitzenberg, R-Glasgow, authorizes the addition of two new lanes to U.S. Highway 2 through Montana.
"If we're going to have a good future we need a good highway," Kitzenberg said this morning.
A Senate Highways Committee hearing on the bill is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 1, at 3 p.m. in room 317A at the Capital Building in Helena. Sivertsen and Brenden are trying to get as many people at the hearing as possible to show support for the bill.
"This is the most important bill to help revitalize the economy in northern Montana that we've seen in a while," Sivertsen said. "We need a show of support. If we don't seize the opportunity, we'll continue to lag behind the rest of the state in economic activity and our towns will continue to wither and die."
His wife, Judy, said that there seems to be a lot of support for the rally.
"We're getting quite a bit of response," she said. "Bob's been talking to people up and down the Hi-Line. There's a lot of positive response right now."
She said the more people at the meeting showing support for the bill, the better. She said they need to show the legislators there is support for widening the highway.
Havre Mayor Phyllis Leonard said that she's not sure SB3 is the best idea for Havre.
"We'd better be careful what we wish for," she said.
Leonard said the highway definitely needs widening and improvement, but that the Montana Department of Transportation has assured her that is already planned for in the 2002-2003 work plan, including widening the shoulders to 8 feet. She said if U.S. 2 becomes a four-lane interstate, it will probably bypass Havre to the south, with only on- and off-ramps for access, she said.
"That's not the way it's going to happen," Kitzenberg said.
He said bypassing towns wouldn't happen with his bill. Interstates bypass towns, he said, but this calls for a four-lane highway, not an interstate. He said
SB3 will simply add two new lanes to the existing highway. The route of the highway through towns would not change. He said having a good highway is crucial to economic development. Most economic development is taking place on four-lane highways, he said. It is also important for safety reasons, since Highway 2 is one of the poorest major sections of highway in the state, he said.
"Even just a four-lane highway between Havre and Chinook would make me happy," he said, "save some lives."
A no-host luncheon is scheduled at Jorgenson's Diner in Helena at noon on Thursday, allowing for discussion about the hearing that afternoon.
"We need a strong show of support at the hearing," Bob Sivertsen said. "We want to organize our testimony for the hearing to maximize the effectiveness."
"If there's no interest in it, it's just going to slide by, and it's certainly important," Judy said.
Kitzenberg said that Brad Bekkedahl, president of the Committee for a Modern Highway 2 out of Williston, N.D., will be at the hearing to discuss their work in widening Highway 2 in North Dakota. He said Bekkedahl will talk about the difficulties they faced, which he said are virtually identical to the opposition he is hearing in Montana.
"North Dakota faced the same problems," he said, and they were able to get federal funds."
Kitzenberg said the project would probably take 20 to 30 years, beginning with a study on environmental impacts. He said most of the money would come from the federal government, and the cost would be spread out over the duration of the project. He said with the support of senior Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Conrad Burns, he thinks it will work.
"I think the stars are aligned right for this to happen," he said.
Debbie Vandeberg, general manager of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, said that the chamber is in support of the bill. The board of the chamber released a statement during their monthly meeting on Jan. 17, stating "We, the Board of Directors of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, believe in the improvements to Highway 2 through northern Montana. The improvements to the highway system means economic development for our area and all of northern Montana."
Hill County Commissioner Pat Conway said the commissioners are remaining neutral on the issue.