Massive Transportation Projects Moving Forward in Kalispell

Construction of highway bypass progressing through December; rail park poised for spring groundbreaking

By Dillon Tabish
Kalispell Bypass groundbreaking ceremony on Oct. 7, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Over the next 12 months, one major transportation project will conclude and another will break ground in Kalispell, ushering in significant changes that could ripple throughout the community.

Crews with LHC, a locally based contractor, are making progress on the U.S. 93 Alternate Route and will continue work through December thanks to favorable weather conditions, according to project officials.

The final phase of the long-awaited bypass broke ground in October and crews have been busy constructing 4.5 miles of road from West Reserve Drive near Glacier High School to Foys Lake Road, connecting the new north route with the existing south section that was built from 2007 to 2010. A new overpass is being built over U.S. Highway 2 West as part of the major project.

Crews hope to complete the bypass by fall 2016.

While one transformative project approaches completion, another is preparing to launch.

The Glacier Rail Park, an industrial park for rail-served businesses, is poised to break ground in spring. After the project goes out to bid, crews will begin grading the former 40-acre gravel pit off Whitefish Stage Road that stretches to East Oregon Lane near U.S. Highway 2.

Initial construction will include the installation of water and sewer utilities at the rail park, as well as a leveling of the construction site. A total of 350,000 cubic yards of gravel remains on the site and will also need to be moved, according to project leaders from Flathead County Economic Development Authority, which is spearheading the project.

The rail park is moving forward at full steam following the announcement that Kalispell and FCEDA would receive a $10 million federal transportation grant to help drive a sprawling redevelopment plan through the city.

The city’s plan, in conjunction with FCEDA’s creation of the rail park, envisions replacing the railroad tracks in downtown with a trail system and reconnecting disjointed streets near Kalispell Center Mall.

The redevelopment plan comes with an estimated price tag of $21 million. The city of Kalispell, BNSF Railway and Watco Companies’ Mission Mountain Railroad have pledged $11 million in matching funds, making it one of the region’s largest public-private partnerships.

The federal grant can only be used for transportation projects, such as the development of the rail park.

CHS Kalispell has already agreed to consolidate its operations from three locations across downtown to a new site in the rail park. FCEDA has agreed to build a new facility that CHS will lease in the rail park in exchange for the three properties: the 3.81-acre fertilizer plant and gas station on Third Avenue Northeast near Smiths; the 1.6-acre grain elevator site on West Center Street; and the 41,000-square-foot gas station and office on West Idaho Street. FCEDA will clean up and sell the three properties after the acquisition, according to Kim Morisaki, FCEDA project manager.

Morisaki said CHS is not receiving any further payments or funding for its move to the rail park.

The rail park could be fully built by summer 2017. CHS Montana and all of its local operations could also be fully moved into the new site by then also.

Finishing the rail park would allow for the removal of the tracks and the creation of a trail system, which could be completed by summer 2018.

Morisaki said she is focused on finding three other tenants for the rail park. There are two 5-acre lots and one 10-acre lot that will be available when the site is completed, and she hopes to find a manufacturing business that is interested in relocating to Kalispell. The lots are for sale at 40 cents a square foot with full infrastructure, including rail built into the site, she noted.

The Glacier Rail Park is also bordered by an estimated 60 acres zoned for heavy industrial use and served by a rail spur, and BNSF Railway owns a majority of these 60 acres, which provides a great opportunity to grow as demand for rail-served real estate increases, Morisaki noted.

Before the entire project moves forward, the city and FCEDA will be assigned a federal rail administration project manager who will assist in developing a complete management plan to meet all grant requirements.

“Planning for implementation will require significant time in coming months,” said Doug Russell, Kalispell city manager. “While we’d love to break ground today, we know that this preparation is critical to ensuring the entire project is done right.”

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