By Tim Leeds
The Federal Highway Administration has given Montana a couple more weeks to decide where to do a study about widening U.S. Highway 2.
The Montana Department of Transportation had said it would make a decision by Friday on whether to do an environmental impact study on widening the 40-mile section between Havre and Harlem. MDT now has until Feb. 13 to decide whether to use the $1 million available for a study on that section or elsewhere on the highway.
Bob Sivertsen, president of the Highway 2 Association, asked MDT director Dave Galt to request an extension following a public meeting Saturday in Havre.
Sandra Straehl of MDT said some people at the meeting thought the department should consider options along Highway 2 other than the Havre-to-Harlem stretch.
Congress appropriated $2 million last year for the Highway 2 project. The Legislature last year adopted a bill sponsored by state Sen. Sam Kitzenberg, R-Glasgow, directing MDT to seek congressional appropriations to widen Highway 2 to four lanes.
Kitzenberg has said the worst stretch of the highway in Montana is between Havre and Chinook, and asked that the study be done for the stretch between Havre and Harlem.
MDT has said that would delay planned improvements on Highway 2 between Havre and Chinook and other projects between Chinook and Harlem, which is about 20 miles east of Chinook.
At Saturday's meeting, state Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, suggested MDT conduct the study between Chinook and Zurich so it wouldn't delay the project west of Chinook.
Sivertsen said in a press release that the delay of MDT's decision will give members of the Highway 2 Association time to meet with MDT staff in Helena.
Although Congress made two $1 million appropriations, Straehl said both will probably have to be used for the environmental study, which will cost more than $1 million. The other $1 million had been allocated for four-lane construction.
Straehl said a study between Havre and Harlem would delay three highway projects MDT has on the books. One is to widen Highway 2 to a two-lane highway with 12-foot driving lanes and 8-foot shoulders between Havre and Lohman. Another would widen the two-lane to 40 feet from Lohman to Chinook, and another would widen the two-lane from Zurich to Harlem.
The projects are scheduled to begin in 2005 for Havre East, and after 2006 for the others. The study would delay the projects by the duration of the study, typically three years.
The Federal Highway Administration had already given MDT an extension on its deadline. The original deadline to submit proposals for the $2 million was Jan. 15. That was extended to Jan. 31 to allow for the meeting in Havre.
Meanwhile, the Transportation and Business Development committees of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce is bringing a North Dakotan involved in widening Highway 2 to Havre. Brad Bekkedahl of Williston, N.D., is president of North Dakota's Communities for a Modern Highway 2 Association. He will speak at a no-host luncheon at noon on Feb. 8 at the Duck Inn Antique Room.
North Dakota is in the final stages of widening Highway 2 to four lanes. At the luncheon, Bekkedahl will discuss the economic impact of widening the highway, the environmental impact study process, and the present construction plans in North Dakota.
The cost of the luncheon, which includes a buffet and beverage, is $8.50 per person. People can make reservations by calling the Chamber at 265-4383.