Kalispell Council Holding Public Hearing on Downtown Plan

City officials accepting community input on proposed strategy, including Main Street traffic changes

By Dillon Tabish
Downtown Kalispell. Beacon File Photo

The Kalispell City Council wants to hear from the public about a list of proposed changes in downtown, including reduced traffic lanes on Main Street.

The council is holding a public hearing on the Kalispell Downtown Plan at its Nov. 6 meeting in City Hall. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

City planners have crafted a new strategy for downtown after collecting community input and surveys over the last few years. The strategy focuses on addressing public infrastructure improvements and the character of Main Street and surrounding blocks, among other issues. To read the entire plan, visit kalispell.com.

One of the plan’s primary goals is centered on reducing traffic congestion on Main Street to improve commerce and walkability. A traffic study from 2016 predicts worsening vehicle congestion along Main Street in the years ahead. The city’s plan calls for reducing U.S. Highway 93 through downtown from four traffic lanes to two lanes with a center turn lane. It also recommends keeping two lanes of traffic around the Flathead County Courthouse instead of following the state’s recommendation of expanding to four lanes around the so-called couplet.

“We are not trying to slow traffic down and squeeze it down to a crawl,” Tom Jentz, Kalispell’s planning director, said at an Oct. 9 work session in City Hall. “Statistics will show that a three-lane road will carry traffic as well as a four-lane road, but it does it safer.”

The city’s proposed solution to downtown congestion clashes with the county and Montana Department of Transportation’s stance.

Dating back to 1994, the state transportation department has planned to expand the highway from Somers to Whitefish to four lanes, and all but the short stretch around the courthouse is completed. It is the oldest unfinished project on MDT’s books in Western Montana. MDT officials say the four-lane format creates an effective flow of traffic that is justified by traffic analyses.

In August, the three county commissioners — Phil Mitchell, Pam Holmquist and Gary Krueger — sent a letter to the city of Kalispell stating their opposition to reduced traffic lanes.

“We encourage Kalispell officials to abandon any plans that have the potential to degrade the connectivity, efficiency and safety of highways, streets and roads within Flathead County,” the commissioners wrote.

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