It only takes a few minutes standing at the intersection of U.S. Highway 2 and Springcreek and Dern roads with Todd Wirthlin to see what he has been talking about for the last few years – that this intersection just west of Kalispell is one of the most dangerous in the area.
As a pickup truck turned east off Springcreek Road, it cut off a car heading west on U.S. Highway 2. The driver of the westbound vehicle blared the horn as the two cars passed.
Wirthlin, who has lived near the intersection for more than a decade, said he has seen dozens of similar close calls and numerous accidents, including a handful of fatalities.
“It’s like playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun,” he said of driving through the intersection. “There is not one person I’ve talked to who knows this intersection and doesn’t think it’s dangerous.”
Now at the urging of local residents, state transportation officials are looking at redesigning the road to make it safer and bring it up to current standards, a project that could cost upwards of $3 million.
Wirthlin, who worked as an airport designer and now specializes in farm and ranch real estate, said in his experience visibility and speed are the two biggest issues at the intersection. U.S. Highway 2 runs on a tight curve through the area and Dern Road comes up on a steep incline on the inside of the curve. On the outside of the curve, Springcreek Road joins the highway on another steep hill. Those factors, combined with fast highway speeds, mean drivers have a hard time seeing what’s around the bend and do not have much time to react to an oncoming vehicle. Wirthlin’s wife Lee said it takes just one person to make a mistake that leads to disastrous results.
Wirthlin said he can hear the wrecks from his house, a few hundred yards away, and he is usually one of the first on the scene and to call 911. He has also called the Flathead County Commission and the Montana Department of Transportation, but until recently not much has been done to make the road safer.
“I’m not complaining just to complain, I just don’t want to see another person die,” he said. “I don’t know how many people need to get hurt for them to do something about this.”
Ed Toavs, the Missoula district administrator for MDT, said engineers and designers are now looking at making the road safer and will be adding lights and signage to warn drivers of the curved intersection later this year. Toavs said the road at that location no longer meets current standards.
“It’s a pretty urgent project for us because it’s been a problem intersection for a long time and it’s not going to get any better as traffic volumes increase,” Toavs said.
Toavs said it is too early to predict when the larger project might start but he expected a timeline to be announced some time this fall or winter. He estimated that the project would cost between $2 million and $3 million and that some nearby property would have to be purchased.
“We want to do it as fast as money allows,” he said.
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