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MDT Prepares for Ronan Highway Changes

By Beacon Staff

The Montana Department of Transportation is getting ready for a $20 million U.S. Highway 93 road project through Ronan. Missoula District Administrator Ed Toavs said work would begin as early as 2017.

The project will split the northbound and southbound lanes of U.S. Highway 93 around downtown Ronan, much like it has been split in Arlee. MDT held a public meeting about the project in Ronan on March 4. According to Toavs, more than 100 people attended.

Toavs said Ronan is the last piece of the puzzle of a U.S. Highway 93 corridor improvement project between Polson and Evaro that dates back to the late 1990s.

“It’s a very important corridor for all of western Montana,” Toavs said. “Quite frankly, (Ronan) is probably the most complex project in the corridor.”

The centerpiece of the Ronan project will be two, two-lane roadways going around downtown. The southbound lane will be built on what is now First Avenue SW and the northbound lane will stay where Highway 93 is currently located. Toavs says the improvements will aid traffic flow and safety.

“There will be significant changes,” Toavs said. “Highway 93 through Ronan has an awful lot of traffic on it, especially during peak hours.”

In 2009, 10,840 vehicles used U.S. Highway 93 through Ronan everyday. By 2040, MDT estimates it will be twice that, with 20,650 vehicles daily.

The project will require MDT to buy 200 parcels of land in Ronan and Toavs said that would start in 2015. One piece of land the highway project will encroach upon is the park along First Avenue, according to city parks board member Tom McDonald.

Ronan’s city park is a block away from U.S. Highway 93. McDonald worries that moving the main road will change how the park is used.

“All of the sudden, the park becomes a highway rest stop,” McDonald said. “It changes the complexity and use of the park … It’s not our burden to provide a rest stop for Highway 93 travelers.”

McDonald said more visitors would mean more wear and tear on the city-owned facility. It could also mean locals will have less access due to fewer parking spaces. Although McDonald raised concerns about the project’s potential effect on the park, he said he’s supportive of MDT’s project.

“It should be a win-win for Ronan, because we only have one shot at this,” he said.

Design of the project began in 2012 and will continue through 2017, when construction is expected to begin. MDT wants to finish the project in 2018.

“This is a very aggressive work schedule and this is an awful lot of work to get done,” Toavs said.

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