The city council is reviewing possible changes to the section of U.S. Highway 93 that wraps around the Flathead County Courthouse, known as the couplet.
Project leaders from Robert Peccia and Associates presented the latest design options to the council at a Feb. 13 work session after the Beacon went to print. After conducting its study over the last two years, the traffic engineering firm is recommending the section of road be expanded to four lanes, or two lanes on each side of the couplet. The current configuration is one lane on each side of the highway before it grows into two lanes going either direction through downtown.
The council has previously expressed concern about widening the highway around the couplet, saying it would hamper downtown’s goal of improving walkability and reducing traffic congestion.
Dating back to 1994, state transportation officials have wanted to expand the highway from Somers to Whitefish to four lanes, and all but the short stretch around the courthouse has been completed. It is the oldest unfinished project on MDT’s books in Western Montana.
Flathead County commissioners have already expressed support for removing the highway lanes on the west side of the courthouse and adding four lanes of north and southbound traffic on the east side. This re-alignment would better connect the campus and provide safer access for employees and residents, county officials say.
Pam Carbonari, coordinator with the Kalispell Business Improvement District and coordinator with the Kalispell Downtown Association, supports reducing all of Main Street to two lanes with a center turn lane. By increasing capacity on Willow Glen on the west side of town and the connection of the U.S. 93 Alternate Route, downtown Kalispell could finally feel more like an historic downtown and less like a busy highway, she said.
“We all know if we are going to be able to get to a place where we have a quiet, safer downtown, a more walk-able downtown, we have to limit the lanes on Main Street,” she said.