One Parcel Left: Negotiations Clearing Way for Bypass

By Beacon Staff

And then there was one. Jim Lynch, director of the Montana Department of Transportation, said one piece of property remains to be purchased in the right-of-way for the southern portion of the U.S. Highway 93 bypass. The landowner of the penultimate parcel signed the papers last week, and Lynch is encouraged by smooth negotiations over the final property.

“We don’t really see a deal-breaker on that last one, but it isn’t done until it’s done,” he said. “We don’t want to jinx ourselves here.”

The southern portion will be a two-lane road running along Kalispell’s west side, from U.S. Highway 2 south to U.S. 93, with a roundabout at Airport Road, another roundabout at Foys Lake Road, an intersection with traffic lights at U.S. 2, and a bike path running the length of the bypass.

As of the end of March, Lynch said MDT had 62 parcels to purchase, but negotiations have accelerated through the summer. The right-of-ways are being bought with federal earmarks, but an infusion this year of federal stimulus dollars has allowed the state to make a strong case in negotiations to property owners that they wouldn’t be selling their land for a road that will never get built.

“We’ve been able to sit down with them and say, ‘This will happen,’” he added.
“That’s been very beneficial.”

Once MDT obtains the necessary permits from the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers, buys the final piece of property and finalizes the proposed road’s design, it can submit the plans to the Federal Highway Administration, which can then obligate the dollars.

In putting other projects out for bid throughout the state, Lynch said construction firms are bidding very aggressively, but he estimates the southern half of the bypass will cost between $34 million and $38 million, and will be broken up for bid into three portions. MDT could seek bids on the job this winter.

“If everything goes to planning, we should see construction this coming spring, if not sooner, depending on what the weather does,” Lynch said.

With the $211 million in stimulus funds allocated to Montana highways, Lynch said 69 projects across the state are planned. With that money, MDT has so far obligated $130 million for 51 different projects. Out of those 51 jobs, 49 are currently under construction, generating $85 million in additional work so far, employing 25 different prime contractors and 158 subcontractors, Lynch said.

In the Flathead, the prospect of the U.S. 93 bypass, long in the works, could be on its way to becoming a reality next year.

“We’re not there yet but we’re working hard,” Lynch said. “It’s been real encouraging to watch happen over the last couple of months.”