By Ross Markman
According to Bob Sivertsen, president of the Highway 2 Association, a poll circulated by the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce asking for community input on the future of U.S. Highway 2 is "totally inaccurate and misleading."
The poll, printed in Friday's Havre Daily News, asked the public whether it supports doing a $1.8 million environmental impact study on the 40 miles of Highway 2 between Havre and Harlem or proceeding with the development of scheduled projects that would widen and improve the road to 40 feet between Havre and Harlem over the next six years.
Sivertsen held a press conference today at the Great Northern Inn where he said the poll, drafted at the request of the Hill County commissioners, is unclear.
"This poll, I'm asking for it to be totally disregarded. It's a total misrepresentation," Sivertsen said. "This is not what we need in our leadership when we're fighting for the survival of the Highway 2 corridor."
Sivertsen contends Congress actually appropriated $1 million for the EIS, which would be the first step in converting the two-lane Highway 2 into four lanes. The other $1 million was allocated for preliminary work on the four-lane project, he said. Sivertsen also said the poll is incorrect in saying "the MDT has scheduled three construction projects between Havre and Harlem over the next six years."
"That is what's totally misleading. The only project due to be let in the next five years is Havre east. These other projects we don't know," he said.
Mick Johnson, Great Falls district administrator for the MDT, said Sivertsen has a point.
The only project in the design stage is the 12 miles east of Havre, Johnson said. The other projects Loma east and west (9.7 miles) and Harlem to Zurich (10 miles) will likely be completed in the next six to 10 years, he said.
Johnson also said Sivertsen is accurate in saying that only $1 million was allotted for the EIS. After budget cuts, that amount will likely be reduced to roughly $850,000, Johnson said.
Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said this morning he's surprised Sivertsen is questioning the poll.
"I don't know what (Sivertsen's) concerns are with the poll. I think it's accurate. We tried to make it as clear as possible. Those are the two options we've been given," Kaercher said.
"I don't believe we're going to actually make a decision on (the future of Highway 2). We're just going to pass on the public's decision. We have never been put in the position to make a decision on a federal highway," he added.
The deadline to submit opinions on the immediate future of Highway 2 was today at noon. The MDT will make its decision Wednesday.
The push to expand Highway 2 to four lanes was initiated by Sen. Sam Kitzenberg, R-Glasgow, spearheading the "4 for 2" campaign along the Hi-Line.
The last Montana Legislature passed Senate Bill 3, which directed the MDT to seek federal funding to construct the four-lane highway.
"We've had hearings since January of 2001. We've had meetings here. We've had hearings here. And yet, (the commissioners) are saying there's confusion," Sivertsen said. "They need to understand that this is the last shot we'll ever have to at getting a four-lane highway."