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MDT director to visit Havre on Highway 2 issue

 

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Mo n t a n a D e p a r tme n t o f Transportation Director Jim Lynch will be in Havre tonight, listening to a pitch from the Highway 2 Association. The association wants U.S. Highway 2 expanded to four lanes for an 11-mile stretch east of Havre, even if it means a delay in construction. Contracts for an improved two-lane highway — with frequent passing and turning lanes — are expected to be awarded this summer. Lynch said he wants to hear what area elected city and county officials think before deciding whether to appeal an earlier federal environmental study that rejected the four-lane proposal. Revisiting the environmental impact statement would mean a delay of at least one year, he said. There is no guarantee that a new environmental study will yield any different results, Lynch said. Highway 2 Association President Bob Sivertsen said he will take the director on a tour of the highway tonight. He said he was glad Lynch was coming to Havre because he feels MDT has been "dragging its feet" on the project, a charge Lynch vehemently denies. "That's not true at all," he said. "We are working hard on it." Lynch said the state is working to make as much of the highway four lanes as possible. Sivertsen said few environmental questions have been raised on the segment of Highway 2 that would be renov a t e d u n d e r t h i s p r o j e c t . Environmental concerns were raised on the portion of the highway that is closer to Harlem and Fort Belknap, and that stretch is not included in this project, he said. Sivertson said the environmental concerns were raised by then-Gov. Judy Martz, who opposed the four-lane highway. Gov. Brian Schweitzer is far more open to the four-lane expansion, Sivertsen said, but his enthusiasm has not been shared by the bureaucracy. Lynch and Sivertsen agree that one segment of the highway should be four lanes. The 1.2 mile stretch running east from the end of the 1st Street project Completed two years ago is being designed for four lanes, Lynch said. Initial plans called for a two-lane highway with frequent turning lanes, he said. MDT feels it can build four lanes in that area within the confines of the environmental impact study, he said. "No property acquisition would be needed," he said. The design work is being done now, Lynch said. Sivertsen said he will push for that project to be undertaken this summer, but Lynch said that can't be done. The Havre area project is an important part of making Highway 2 four lanes across Montana, Sivertsen said, adding that Saskatchewan and Alberta are undergoing an economic transformation, and northern Montana stands to gain a lot by being a major transportation artery to and from the provinces. Lynch said he has the feeling that most area officials would like to see the highway east of Havre converted to four lanes, but they are wary of delays. There is no guarantee of funding for either a two-lane or four-lane project after the end of this year, he said. "But to be fair," Lynch said, "we have proven there is a need for this project." That kind of proof will help secure funding, he added.

 
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