Push resumes to four-lane highway
May 5, 2009
Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]
With a stronger state law behind him, the president of the Highway 2 Association is resuming the fight to upgrade the highway from Havre to Fort Belknap to a four-lane road. Bob Sivertsen has started a petition drive asking the Montana Department of Transportation to consider upgrading the project, currently being designed as an improved two-lane highway with wider lanes and shoulders and intermittent passing and turning lanes. “We have never had the opportunities we have today, and it's up to us,” Sivertsen said this morning. “Our destiny is in our hands.” Sivertsen said he wants to complete the petition drive this month in an attempt to hold a public meeting in June about upgrading the project to a four-lane configuration. He is putting petitions out in businesses from Chester to Glasgow and has supporters circulating the petitions by hand, Sivertsen said. Department of Transportation Director Jim Lynch said this morning that it is possible to revisit environmental impact studies, such as the study completed in 2004 that recommended a two-lane configuration east of Havre. “EIS's have been revisited, that's nothing new,” Lynch said, adding that the process is usually reopened when too much time has passed and situaTions have changed. “In some cases it may not change the final outcome, in some cases it could,” he said. The Havre-to-Fort Belknap project was the first considered after the Montana Legislature in 2001 passed a law requiring the transportation department to widen U.S. Highway 2 to four lanes across the state. In negotiations to pass the law, Senate Bill 3, sponsor Sam Kitzenberg, a state senator from Glasgow, agreed to amendments including requests by of then-transportation Director Dave Galt. Those amendments required the projects to be funded only with federal money earmarked for the projects, and that they not jeopardize any other state highway projects. After a two-year process preparing the EIS on the potential impacts of widening the highway from Havre to Fort Belknap, both the federal and state departments of transportation in 2004 recommended the improved two-lane configuration. The departments cited the study's findings that widening the highway to four lanes would not significantly improve traffic or the local economy. The first section of the project, known as the Havre East project, comprises 10 miles of highway east of Havre and is now being designed as an improved two-lane highway. Some supporters of the widening effort, dubbed “4 for 2,” including Sivertsen said then- Gov. Judy Martz and Galt, had “shanghaied” the project by not considering the long-term impacts of widening the highway across the state. Martz's press secretary denied that allegation. Sivertsen this morning again said the EIS processed in 2004 was flawed, and the results need to be re-examined. “It's totally bogus that they would even adopt a design based on a study that was flawed and contrived,” he said. Sivertsen said that, especially with a current effort to upgrade the port north of Havre into Canada to a 24-hour commercial port widening the highway would bring major economic benefits to the area. “We're sitting right next door to one of the strongest economies in North America, and that's Alberta and Saskatchewan,” he said. Gov. Brian Schweitzer has repeatedly expressed his support for widening Highway 2, and recently signed a bill sponsored by Sen. Ken “Kim” Hansen, D-Harlem, passed by the legislature removing the amendments made to Kitzenberg's bill. Lynch also has spoken in support of the effort and testified in support of Hansen's bill before the legislature this year. He said this morning that Hansen's bill created necessary changes. With the amendments made before Senate Bill 3 passed, even if a study showed the state should build a fourlane configuration, it became unsure if the state could do so. “It really took away a lot of the confusion that was created by Senate Bill 3,” Lynch said. “If we have a document that says build four lanes, we can build four lanes.” He said the first phase of a project to do that, building a four-lane highway from the North Dakota Border to Bainville, should begin this summer. Once that is complete, the department will seek funding for the second phase of that project, widening the highway from Bainville to Culbertson, Lynch said.