Preliminary work is underway on the second phase of a project that is set to, eventually, upgrade U.S. Highway 2 from Havre to the Fort Belknap Agency in Blaine County.
The phase of work set for this summer is from Havre to where a previous upgrade started just east of town, west of Porkchop Hill.
Upgrading the highway from Havre
Lori Ryan, public information officer for Montana Department of Transportation, Thursday described the changes to be made to the two and a half-mile stretch.
"The four-lane section with the two-way left turn lane will extend from the east end of the existing four-lane in Havre at 22nd Avenue Northeast to just east of 38th Avenue Northeast," Ryan wrote in an email. "An eastbound passing lane will continue for another 1,150 feet beyond the end of the four-lane."
A shared-use path will also be constructed, on the north side of the roadway from the beginning of the project to 38th Avenue Northeast, Ryan said.
"The project is a complete reconstruction with new grading, surfacing, drainage, signing and pavement markings," Ryan said.
M.A. DeAtley Construction Inc. is heading this phase of the project on U.S. Highway 2. The Clarkston, Wash.-based construction company has a $7 million-dollar contract with MDT. MDT administers federal funds on highway projects.
Five months of work, short traffic delays expected
Dusty Forsmann, the project manager for the reconstruction of the highway, said the project will take them approximately five months to complete.
"We're hoping to start soon, weather permitting," Forsmann said. "The goal is April. You're going to see some stuff out there beginning next week."
"It's a basic reconstruction project," Forsmann said. "We're reconstructing the road and building a better base underneath."
Ryan said the first work will be culvert excavation, embankment work, and fencing, adding that work is scheduled to begin on the east end of the project and proceed to the west. When this work begins, travelers can expect travel delays of 10 to 15 minutes and single-lane traffic during working hours, she said.
Forsmann said he and his crew do not anticipate any major issues with the project, and there will be no problems with traffic traveling along the stretch.
Doug Rhoades, an employee of DeAtley who was out laying down alignments for approach pipes Wednesday, said crews are going to try to begin work Monday, but it might not happen due to weather conditions.
"It'll start within two weeks, though ... ," Rhoads said. "It's going to be nice when it's done."
Years - and decades - in the making, more to come
The work east of Havre is the latest step in a 13-year - actually decades old - effort to upgrade Highway 2.
In 2001, Montana Sen. Sam Kitzenberg of Glasgow passed Senate Bill 3 - a bill directing the Montana Department of Transportation to widen U.S. Highway 2 to four lanes across Montana and the renewal of the "4 for 2" effort.
The bill was a revival of the effort of Havreites and other Hi-Line residents in previous decades asking the state to widen Highway 2 to four lanes.
At the request of then-MDT Director Dave Galt, Kitzenberg agreed to amend his bill so only federal money earmarked for widening Highway 2 could be used on the project.
When then-Sen. Max Baucus, now U.S. ambassador to China, spearheaded Congress designating $2 million for Highway 2, a project proposing widening the highway from Havre to Fort Belknap was selected for the first study.
The decision of the Federal Highway Administration was to recommend an improved two-lane, with intermittent passing and turning lanes, known as a "Super 2."
Galt, who had previously said he would stand by the state law requiring four lanes, then said because of the federal decision he would back a Super 2 configuration.
The first phase of the project, upgrading the highway from just east of Havre at Porkchop Hill to about 10 miles east, was completed in 2012. The project now starting from Havre to Porkchop Hill is the next phase.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a supporter of 4 for 2, started a new tack in his tenure. Schweitzer advocated starting at the North Dakota border and connecting a four-lane highway to its highway.
Over the previous decades, the North Dakota government had gradually widened the highway to four lanes across that state.
The first project in the North Dakota connection effort is still underway. MDT reported this week that a project to widen the highway to four lanes from North Dakota to Culbertson is close to starting Phase 2.
The first phase upgraded two lanes from the border to Bainville, with the intent to route traffic on those two lanes while two more lanes are added.
The intent of the project is to upgrade the highway in sections along the project, eventually upgrading it the distance to Culbertson.
Schweitzer said that as pieces in Montana are upgraded, it would be easier to justify adding additional sections, pushing the configuration farther west across the state.
Ryan said Thursday that the current phase of the North Dakota to Bainville project has the design moving into the finalization stage and MDT needs to acquire one remaining parcel of right-of-way. The project is tentatively scheduled depending on completion of all project development activities and availability of funding, she said.