Transportation Planner Proposes Changes to Town Center

By Beacon Staff

Bucky Wolford’s Glacier Town Center will be in the hands of Kalispell city councilors Tuesday night. A majority “yes” vote means annexation and approval of initial development. A “no” means more uncertainty.

The council will have the final say, but on Monday night, at the behest of Citizens for a Better Flathead, national transportation planner and land-use expert Dan Burden proposed changes to the Wolford development during a presentation at the Red Lion Hotel.

Burden suggested reducing speed limits and the number of lanes, and making roadways narrower near the proposed “lifestyle mall,” which he says are the keys to “walkability.”

“Towns are trying to be less auto-centric and they are learning to build better street networks, not bigger and more powerful intersections that force people more and more into their cars,” he said. “It’s not wanting to move a lot of traffic. It’s how do we effectively design something that moves that volume?”

The Glacier Town Center is a 485-acre commercial and residential development that would go up between U.S. Highway 93 North and Whitefish Stage Road, bordered by West Reserve Drive to the south. Its 191-acre first phase consists of an outdoor shopping mall located off of U.S. 93.

Currently, the project calls for two new stoplights on U.S. Highway 93, north of West Reserve, which conflict with the city’s draft transportation plan. Burden thinks replacing the stoplights with roundabouts is a feasible option. Wolford’s traffic engineer, Kathleen Krager, said at the meeting that the cost of an intersection nears $250,000. Burden estimated that each roundabout would cost between $150,000 and $400,000. He says that they have proven to be more effective than signals moving traffic in other cities.

Other potential benefits of reassessing the plan, according to Burden, are increased property values through proper land use and networking of roadways. He said the final product could be more aesthetically pleasing by taking proposed inward facing storefronts along U.S. 93 and turning them outward, toward the highway.

“This is meant to solve problems instead of adding to the next layer of problems,” Burden said. “If we don’t take the opportunity to solve it this time it could lead to a system crash.”

Close to 40 people attended what Citizens for a Better Flathead Executive Director Mayre Flowers called, “Our chance to get this right.”

“There is potential for some solutions that could be win-win for community and developer, rather then just moving forward,” she said. “When you analyze the data you see that there are going to be serious flaws and problems in the near future.”

Related: Make-or-break time for Wolford Development