A project to enhance accessibility on U.S. Highway 2 leading into Columbia Falls will be underway in August, with paving, sidewalks, gutters, and more planned for the roadway.
The Columbia Falls Urban Project, as the Columbia Falls Chamber of Commerce calls it, aims to improve the highway leading into Columbia Falls from the west, at the junction with Highway 40.
The improvement project will continue through town to the east side of the bridge crossing over the Flathead River.
“Initially, it started as a project to redo the road, but when you start doing the asphalt, they had to do the sidewalks as well,” Columbia Falls chamber director Laura Gadwa said. “It’s just such a high-traffic area; the road is pretty rutty and tore up, so it’ll be a nice.”
Knife River will begin construction on the project on Aug. 14, and project working days will continue Monday through Saturday until Nov. 16, when they shut down for winter. They will pick back up in spring.
It’s not an ideal time to start a major construction project, Gadwa conceded, because summer is the busiest time of the year for the city, but it’s also necessary.
“It is kind of a crazy time to do it, but there’s really no other time,” she said.
Drivers can expect single-lane traffic as the project gets underway, and should be cautious about workers and equipment. Knife River asks drivers to travel at posted speeds until the work zone has ended; driving fines double in the work zone.
Improvements will run from mile marker 134.2 on Highway 2 — just east of the highway’s junction with Highway 40 — to mile marker 137.4. They will include asphalt paving; asphalt milling; adding sidewalks, curbs and gutters; and signing, striping and lighting upgrades.
Gadwa noted that the sidewalks will be wheelchair accessible, which is an inclusive aspect of the project the chamber prizes as the city continues its revitalization post-recession.
“Columbia Falls is growing like crazy,” Gadwa said. “The chamber is thriving right now. We’ve had more events this summer than we’ve ever had.”
The project will complement growth already underway, she said, such as the addition of new businesses on Nucleus Avenue. Last year, Mick Ruis, a local developer, built the city’s first hotel, Cedar Creek Lodge. This year, he purchased the Bandit Bar and Saloon on Nucleus Avenue and plans to turn it into a sports bar connecting to a future steakhouse.
Ruis is also building and renovating apartments in downtown Columbia Falls.
For questions about the Columbia Falls Urban Project, call Knife River at (406) 752-2755 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.