The Montana Department of Transportation will conduct a study about the highway running to the port of Wild Horse, according to Bob Kaul.
Kaul, a former Havre City Council member who has long advocated improving the highway, said the study is the best news he has heard since he started talking to the department about the issue.
MDT confirmed this morning that it is in the planning stages of conducting a study of the impacts of extended hours and increased traffic at the ports of Wild Horse north of Havre, on Montana Secondary Highway 232, and on the Port of Morgan north of Malta.
Kaul said improving Highway 232 from Havre to 24 miles north — which has not been improved since its construction in 1956 — is a top priority of the Hill County Commission, but at this point is likely at least 15 years out on the MDT schedule.
Kaul said that while it is not guaranteed, the study — which should be completed by next summer, he said — “could move us from 15 years out to three to five years out. ”
He added that MDT Director Tim Reardon has been very supportive of looking at ways to improve the Wild Horse highway, including conducting the study.
One of the intentions of starting the study this fall is to ensure it is under way during the transition to the administration of the new governor in January, Kaul said.
One part of the discussion raised some disagreement during Wednesday’s Wild Horse meeting.
Bob Sivertsen said one part of the study could look at the need for a bypass for trucks to use to avoid coming into Havre at the viaduct on 7th Avenue. That could be a connector route for commercial vehicles that would run from Highway 232 and connect with U. S. Highway 2 east of Kmart, he said.
One audience member, who did not identify himself, said he wants looking at a bypass delayed — pushing for a connector route would delay funding the work on Highway 232, which he said is the crucial issue.
Once the highway is improved and safety issues addressed, then the state should look at finding funds to make a connector route, the man said.
Sivertsen said he appreciates the input, and urged audience members to attend meetings that will go with the study. He added that money is available for safety issues on secondary highways that could fund that part of the project.
Having a large number of trucks having to stop on the slope of the viaduct, which has a controlled intersection onto 1st Street without any kind of landing on which vehicles can wait, could cause serious safety issues, Sivertsen said.
He also said, in response to a question from the audience, that the route over the viaduct would remain in place if a truck connector route is built. That bypass simply would allow traffic to avoid having to turn onto 1st Street from the stoplight at the viaduct.
Trucks turning onto U. S. Highway 2 at the bypass then would be able to head west toward Kalispell or turn south on U. S. Highway 87 toward Great Falls, or head through Havre en route east or to turn toward Billings and points farther south, Sivertsen said.
When another audience member questioned Havre being able to accommodate high levels of truck traffic Sivertsen said the recent upgrade to 1st Street should make that work well. He added that trucks coming over the viaduct still have to pass through Havre.
Kalli Marin, who recently moved to Havre with her husband, John, from Arnegard, N.D., said delaying the connector route would be a mistake. Some highways in western North Dakota were upgraded to deal with the oil development in the Bakken Formation without making connector routes, she said.
Those highways now are backed up with wall-to-wall trucks, with farmers and local residents sometimes having to wait for hours to turn onto highways, she said.
“Not bypassing, not thinking ahead, is not going to do this town any service, ” Marin said.