The state transportation commission last week approved Kalispell’s proposed development of Four Mile Drive and reaffirmed its commitment to complete the city’s bypass.
Kevin Howlett, the chairman of the Montana Transportation Commission, told attendees at last week’s meeting in Helena that the state has several road projects in need of funding, but that the unfinished U.S. 93 Alternate Route would be neither abandoned nor forgotten.
The state is currently developing its construction plan for the next five years, and the bypass stands to benefit from funding before other planned projects, like a bridge replacement in Hungry Horse, because the bypass is designed and nearly completed, according to Howlett and officials with the Montana Department of Transportation.
The bypass project is in its final phases and has racked up more than $101 million in costs, roughly 75 percent of which has come from federal earmarks and discretionary allocations through Congress and the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The estimated remaining costs, roughly $39.6 million, will likely need to come from the state because of the lack of available federal funding.
Last week, the commission urged the Flathead Valley to be patient and said that the bypass would receive state funding; it’s simply a matter of when.
“They really did want to reaffirm their support for the project, it’s just a matter of when and based on the priority list,” said Kalispell Mayor Tammi Fisher, who attended the meeting.
Nearly 30 people from the Flathead Valley attended the meeting to show support for the local road projects, including Fisher, City Councilor Phil Guiffrida, the three Flathead County commissioners and state Sen. Bruce Tutvedt. Joe Unterreiner, the president of the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, presented a petition signed by nearly 150 community members and businesses in support of the unfinished U.S. 93 Alternate Route and Four Mile Drive project. Representatives from U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester’s offices were also there to back the bypass.
“I think they really appreciated that people traveled the distance to speak to them about how important these projects are to Flathead County,” Fisher said.
“It was certainly worth the trip because it was important to show support for these two projects. If people are avoiding Kidsports or north Kalispell because Kidsports is packed, we have to do something about that.”
The commission did give the OK for the Four Mile Drive development near Kidsports Complex.
Kalispell now has approval to move forward with finishing Four Mile Drive using urban highway funds that have accrued over the years. The city plans to connect both sides of Four Mile at Stillwater Road, creating another outlet for traffic near Kidsports and alleviating congestion on U.S. 93. The project would include developing an interchange that could bridge over the future bypass and play an integral role in the city’s transportation system, according to city officials. The project is estimated at roughly $3 million and could break ground in the next two years. The city receives an annual allotment of $600,000 for urban highway projects.
Another phase of the bypass at Three Mile Drive is ready to seek construction bids and is expected to break ground next spring, meaning the bypass would be within two phases of completion.
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