Transforming Transportation – Flathead Beacon
As population and visitor growth continue to create traffic jams and test the limits of Flathead Valley’s infrastructure, city planners are working with the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) to plan a cohesive transit system for the future.
Municipalities are updating their individual transport plans, most of which were adopted over a decade ago, to provide a framework for efficient travel routes for the next two decades.
“We have modeled growth over the next 20 years and its impact on transportation networks,” said Jarod Nygren, director of development services at Kalispell. “It shows us how to plan road networks, road types and new developments… You cannot allow new developments without infrastructure.
Kalispell officials are finalizing the Kalispell Move 2040 region transportation plan, an update to the most recent plan adopted in 2008, which covers city limits and Evergreen areas and areas peripheral residential.
Incorporating input from an engineering consultant, MDT, members of the public and stakeholders, the transportation plan identifies Kalispell’s goals, which include safety, congestion reduction, accessibility and connectivity and l state of infrastructure.
As one of the city’s most significant projects, the Kalispell Bypass serves as the backbone to alleviate congestion on US Highway 93 and downtown.
MDT began construction of the bypass over ten years ago, after several years of planning already, and officials are working to complete the project from Foys Lake Road to the southern junction with Highway 93. The Corridor The four-lane overpass at Foys Lake is expected to divert traffic west of Highway 93, giving MDT more scope for multimodal options throughout downtown Kalispell.
By diverting more traffic to the bypass, planners can brainstorm alternatives for a three-lane corridor through downtown Kalispell, reducing it by four lanes.
“The vision is to make Main Street a more pedestrian-friendly three-lane road,” Nygren said. “The conflict is that it is also a freeway and that Main Street is very busy … Making three lanes restricts traffic but does not reduce the increase in demand.
While planners hope to create a more crossable main street and reduce the number of vehicles, Nygren says there are consequences, including increased traffic on side streets. He says a three-lane corridor will not function without the completion of the bypass.
“You need a complete construction of the bypass,” Nygren said.
A network of connected streets leading to the bypass is also crucial in diverting traffic from Main Street, which is why the transportation plan offers alternative routes, including adding connections on Eighth and Third Avenue, which would link US Highway 2 / Idaho Street and West Rue du Center.
Despite the plan’s vision for a pedestrian-friendly main street, the plan drew criticism from some members of the public at a city council meeting on Aug. 16, who argued that it was too ‘geared towards the automobile ”.
“If our transportation plan incorporates the use of cycle lanes, sidewalks and public transportation in the expansion of roads, we may be able to see a decrease in kilometers traveled and vehicle hours traveled,” said Ruben. Castren of Citizens For A Better Flathead.
While the current plan does not currently include cycle lanes on Main Street, Nygren does not rule out this possibility for the future, but says the limited right-of-way poses challenges. With lane reduction, he says other possibilities to use the space include expanding sidewalks or adding more parking.
However, a cycle path is included in the plan on Second Street East and West, connecting the neighborhoods between Peterson Elementary School and Woodland Park as well as various cycle paths around Kalispell.
As Kalispell nears completion of the transportation plan process, with council due to vote on its passage on September 7, City of Whitefish officials are updating their own transportation plan, which has passed. in 2010.
The Whitefish study area includes areas outside the city limits, but public works director Craig Workman says the plan focuses on a multimodal approach within the city.
“The first phase focuses on cycling and walking in the city as well as public transport,” said Workman. “We know we don’t have an unlimited number of rights-of-way to keep expanding the roads. “
Currently, the bike and pedestrian path along the River Trail is Whitefish’s primary connection system for non-vehicular uses, but Workman says officials are considering ways to add bike and walking paths in the city.
Unlike Whitefish and Kalispell, Columbia Falls is developing its very first transportation plan since being designated as an urban city in 2015.
City manager and planning and zoning administrator Susan Nicosia said the city has spent the past few years soliciting public comments for the plan while working with MDT to prioritize needs, including a revitalization of the Nucleus Avenue and the addition of pedestrian-friendly connections.
“Our transportation goals are different from MDT’s,” Nicosia said. “Their goal is to get people through, but we want to focus on a very safe community that is walkable and walkable.”
Nicosia hopes to have a plan ready for adoption by November, but planners have yet to finalize a full plan and city council has to hold a formal public hearing.
But as each municipality strives to meet Flathead’s growth, Workman says Whitefish, Kalispell, and Columbia Falls are trying to work together to create a cohesive update, with each transportation plan passed within the same overall time frame.
“With a growing population and a mix of different types of transportation use, our needs need to be redefined,” Workman said. “The intention here is to have a valley-wide update.”