By Tim Leeds
The Havre City Council has scheduled a special meeting to discuss whether it should take a public stand on widening U.S. Highway 2 to four lanes.
The council agreed Tuesday to meet after Bob Sivertsen of the 4 for 2 Association asked it to vote on the issue. The special meeting will be at 7 p.m. Monday.
Sivertsen told the council that taxes paid on the Hi-Line have been funding other projects in the state for years, including developing and maintaining the interstate system.
"We're just saying now it's our turn," he said. "We want ours because we've waited longer than anyone."
Some council members posed questions about the project. Rick Pierson asked if the state Department of Transportation's $1.2 billion estimate for the total cost of the project is accurate. He said if that amount is inflated over the 20- to 25-year estimated length of the project, the final amount would be much higher.
Sivertsen said he doesn't know if the $1.2 billion estimate includes inflation.
Mayor Phyllis Leonard said she is concerned that current plans to improve Highway 2 will be put aside because of Senate Bill 3, a bill by state Sen. Sam Kitzenberg to widen the highway that was adopted by the Legislature this year. Leonard said she doesn't want to lose what gains have been made.
Sivertsen said the current plans for Highway 2 won't be affected by SB3. The bill specifies that no Montana funding will be diverted for the four-lane project and that no current plans will be canceled.
Council member Emily Mayer Lossing asked Sivertsen who would pay the taxes to fund the $1.2 billion project, and who would pay for the maintenance of the highway once it is widened.
Sivertsen said the initial funding for the project would come from the federal government, as SB3 specifies. He said it would be up to the Montana Legislature to decide whether to appropriate state money for future construction. Maintenance of the highway would be done through the same maintenance programs used now, he said.
Mayer Lossing said many historic sites along Highway 2 could be threatened by widening the highway, and asked if anything would be done to protect those sites.
Sivertsen said the DOT is required to hold public meetings any time highway construction threatens historic sites.